Decreasing prevalence of disability in activities of daily living, functional limitations and poor self-rated health: a 6-year follow-up study in Spain


Background and aims: Forecasting functional status in elderly populations is uncertain. Our aim is to provide evidence of population trends of Activities of Daily Living (ADL) disability, functional limitations and self-rated health. Methods: Data come from a longitudinal study of aging in Leganés (Spain), collected in 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999, on a representative sample of 1560 community dwelling people over 65. Response rate at baseline was 82%. ADL disability was defined as needing help in at least one of the following: walking across a small room, taking a shower, toileting, getting out of bed, getting up from a chair, using the toilet, dressing and eating. Functional limitations were based on questions of difficulty with upper and lower limbs. Self-rated health was assessed with a single question. ADL disability, functional limitations and self-rated health were regressed on age, survey year, sex and education. Results: There are significant declines in ADL disability, functional limitations and poor self-rated health at every age and up to very advanced ages. Over 90, the ADL disability trend may be reversed, with the emergence of a very old and disabled population. Women and people with little education have a higher prevalence of disability, functional limitations and poor health, when compared with men and those with higher education. Conclusions: Results suggest the postponement of severe disability onset in this Spanish population, leading to longer healthy life expectancy, and support the emergence of a very disabled population over 90 years of age.

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Correspondence to Maria Victoria Zunzunegui PhD.

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Zunzunegui, M.V., Nunez, O., Durban, M. et al. Decreasing prevalence of disability in activities of daily living, functional limitations and poor self-rated health: a 6-year follow-up study in Spain. Aging Clin Exp Res 18, 352–358 (2006).

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  • Aging
  • disability trends
  • health trends
  • longitudinal study