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MMWR CDC Surveill Summ. 1999 Dec 17;48(8):131-56.

Surveillance for sensory impairment, activity limitation, and health-related quality of life among older adults--United States, 1993-1997.

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Division of Birth Defects, Child Development, and Disability and Health, National Center for Environmental Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, USA.



Increases in life expectancy in the United States are accompanied by concerns regarding the cumulative impact of chronic disease and impairments on the prevalence of disability and the health status and quality of life of the growing number of older adults (defined as persons aged > or =65 years). Although older adults are the focus of these surveillance summaries, persons aged 55-64 years have also been included, when data were available, as a comparison. One important public health goal for an aging society is to minimize the impact of chronic disease and impairments on the health status of older adults, maintain their ability to live independently, and improve their quality of life. This report examines three dimensions of health status: sensory impairments, activity limitations, and health-related quality of life among older adults.


This report examines data regarding activity limitations and sensory impairments for 1994 and health-related quality of life for 1993-1997.


The 1994 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Core, NHIS disability supplement (NHIS-D1), and the 1994 NHIS Second Supplement on Aging (SOA II) were used to estimate vision impairments, hearing loss, and activity limitation. Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) for 1993 through 1997 were used to estimate two general measures of health-related quality of life: a) the prevalence of self-rated fair or poor general health and b) the number of days during the preceding 30 days when respondents reported their physical or mental health was "not good."


Sensory impairments are common among older adults. Among adults aged > or =70 years, 18.1% reported vision impairments, 33.2% reported hearing impairments, and 8.6% reported both hearing and vision impairments. Although older adults who reported vision and hearing impairments reported more comorbidities than their non-hearing-impaired and nonvisually impaired peers, impaired adults with sensory loss were able to sustain valued social participation roles. Advancing age was associated with increased likelihood of difficulty in performing functional activities and instrumental and basic activities of daily living, regardless of race/ethnicity, sex, and region of residence in the United States. Unhealthy days (a continuous measure of population health-related quality of life) was consistent with self-rated health (a commonly used categorical measure) and useful in identifying subtle differences among sociodemographic groups of older adults. An important finding was that adults aged 55-64 years with low socioeconomic status (i.e., less than a high school education or an annual household income of <$15,000) reported substantially greater numbers of unhealthy days than their peers aged 65-74 years.


Sensory impairments are common in adults aged > or =70 years, and prevalence of activity limitations among older adults is high and associated with advancing age. Health-related quality of life is less closely related to age, particularly when health-related quality of life includes aspects of mental health.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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