Racial and ethnic differences in disability transitions among older adults in the United States

Publication Abstract

Dong, Liming, Vicki Freedman, Brisa N. Sanchez, and Carlos Mendes de Leon. 2019. "Racial and ethnic differences in disability transitions among older adults in the United States." The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 74(3): 406-411.


Racial and ethnic differences in disability persist and are possibly widening in recent years, but evidence is limited for racial and ethnic differences in disability progression through the entire disablement process and potential influential factors. The objective of this study is to examine racial and ethnic differences in patterns of late-life disability transitions, using a new disability spectrum that incorporates successful accommodation with assistive devices in response to capacity limitations to prolong independence.


The study cohort consisted of a nationally representative sample of Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older in the United States who were enrolled in the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study and followed up annually until 2015 (n = 6,198). First-order Markov transition models were used to determine racial/ethnic differences in transitions among three stages of self-care and mobility limitations (fully able, successful accommodation, difficulty/assistance) and death.


After adjustment for age and sex, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic respondents had higher probabilities of unfavorable transitions and lower probabilities of remaining in the successful accommodation stage than non-Hispanic White respondents. The racial and ethnic differences in probabilities of maintaining successful accommodation remained statistically significant after adjustment for socioeconomic and health factors (Black: 0.56, 95% CI = 0.52-0.60; Hispanic: 0.53, 95% CI = 0.44-0.61; White: 0.63, 95% CI = 0.61-0.65).


Successful accommodation with assistive devices may provide possibilities for implementing interventions to enhance older adults' capacities and reducing racial/ethnic differences in late-life disability.


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