Research and Funding

NIH-commissioned report highlights disability among older population

December 10, 2014

Almost 16 million Americans aged 65 and older report having at least one disability, according to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau (PDF, 1.5M), commissioned and funded by the NIA. This is the first Census report on disabilities among older people and looks at disability status by age, sex, marital status, education, and poverty status.

The report is based on data from the American Community Survey (ACS) and covers six types of disability, including difficulty in hearing, vision, cognition, walking, self-care, and independent living. People who reported any one of the six disability types are considered to have a disability. The most common type of disability was difficulty in walking or climbing stairs, which was reported by two-thirds of those with a disability.

The report includes information on the geographic distribution of older people with a disability, with data shown at the county level. The prevalence of disability at older ages varies widely across counties; the Appalachian region, the lower Mississippi Valley, and parts of the upper South have particularly high rates. The report includes a number of maps, including one showing the percentage of older people living alone in poverty with a disability.

The oldest old—those aged 85 and older—had the highest prevalence of disability. While this group represented 13.6 percent of the total older population, they accounted for 25.4 percent of those with a disability.

Reference: He, Wan and Luke J. Larsen, U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey Reports, ACS-29, Older Americans With a Disability: 2008 – 2012, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2014.

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