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J Health Soc Behav. 1994 Jun;35(2):97-117.

Short-term dynamics of disability and well-being.

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  • 1Institute of Gerontology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109-2007.


For persons with serious chronic morbidity, disability is a very dynamic process as morbidity advances or retreats, and as interventions succeed or fail. This article studies trajectories of function (cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and global well-being) over a year for 165 persons whose chronic morbidity prompted a hospital stay. Changes in functioning from hospital admission to one year post-discharge are analyzed; functional statuses were measured nine times in that period. Both intra-individual and inter-individual changes are studied by means of a combination of visual and statistical techniques. (1) Individuals: After the hospital stay, functions typically improve in the first month, stabilize for several months, then begin to fluctuate and worsen. Individual trajectories are very changeful over a year, yet there is short-run continuity (from one measurement point to the next). (2) Groups: Persons with fracture of hip show the most striking and protracted improvements over the year, compared to persons with other conditions. Chances of functional recovery are highest for persons with just one chronic condition; those chances decline as comorbidity increases. Having many social contacts is associated with initial high function that is maintained over the year; having few contacts is associated with stable low function. The analyses point to the scientific value of short remeasurement intervals for persons with severe or multiple morbidity.

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