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Med Care. 1997 Nov;35(11):1132-48.

The prevalence and consequences of unmet need. Contrasts between older and younger adults with disability.

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  • 1Center for Gerontology and Health Care Research, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA.



This article investigates the prevalence, determinants, and consequences of unmet need for assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), and transportation in a randomly selected sample of adults with disability residing in Springfield, Massachusetts.


Respondents were contacted through random digit dialing, and eligibility was determined through a disability screen. Eligible individuals were stratified by age; 632 people were interviewed (78% of contacted eligibles). The prevalence of need and unmet need for ADLs, IADLs, and transportation assistance was calculated separately by age strata, as was the prevalence of selected negative consequences attributed to inadequate help with specific activities. The determinants of unmet need were modeled using logistic regression.


The prevalence of unmet need for assistance with individual ADLs ranged from 4.1% (eating) to 22.6% (transferring) of the full sample. Unmet need for IADLs assistance was higher, ranging from 15.9% (cooking) to 34.6% (heavy housekeeping). Respondents younger than age 65 reported higher levels of unmet need for IADLs and transportation help than respondents age 65 or older; members of the younger group also were more likely to report five of the seven negative consequences attributed to inadequate help with IADLs and transportation (eg, missing medical appointments). Regression results revealed inability to meet expenses, having few or no reliable helpers, and impairment severity to be key determinants of unmet need.


Financial problems, and not age per se, placed working age adults at elevated risk of unmet need in this study. The consequences of inadequate help can impede management of chronic health conditions, and may compromise individuals' ability to maintain a safe and reasonable quality of community living.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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