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Int J Epidemiol. 1998 Apr;27(2):261-8.

Associations between diagnoses, impairments, disability and handicap in a population of elderly people.

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  • 1University Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Royal Free Hospital, London, UK.



'Handicap' is the disadvantage for an individual that results from ill-health. It represents an important outcome in chronic disabling disease, but has proved difficult to measure until recently. The strength of association between handicap and other health status measures, and the relative contributions of health and socioeconomic variables to handicap have not been studied previously.


We undertook a cross-sectional survey of all people > 65 years old in a defined geographical area of North London. The interview was based on the short-CARE psychiatric survey tool, and in addition included measures of physical health and disability, the London Handicap Scale, income, social support and housing. In all, 654 residents (74%) from a register of 889 were interviewed. A random sample of 225 had additional data collected which are reported in this analysis.


Strength of association with handicap scores increased progressively from diagnosis to impairment to disability. Variation in handicap with diagnosis was explained by impairment, and variation with impairment was mostly explained by disability. Age, housing quality, social support and income were associated with handicap score, but confounding by these did not explain the association between handicap and other aspects of disablement. Disease-associated variables explained quantitatively much more variation in handicap than socioeconomic variables.


The most potent influences on handicap are disease and disability, justifying the high priority given by health services to detection, treatment and rehabilitation. Where this is not possible handicap may be reduced to some extent through socioeconomic intervention.

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