Objective. To review what is known about the prevalence and impact of arthritis on disability and health care expenditures incurred by older persons.

Methods. The current prevalence estimates of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis in the US are examined, and what is known about the relationship of arthritis, broadly defined to disability, and the impact of arthritis-specific disability on home care and nursing home use by older persons are reviewed.

Results. Arthritis is a major contributor to disability among older people and is especially disabling for older women, who have higher prevalence rates and greater disability than their male counterparts. Studies of the relationship of arthritis to long-term care use indicate that arthritis can be a risk factor insofar as it can cause disability that results in homeboundedness, which, in turn is a risk factor for nursing home use. It is possible that previous analyses that included arthritis and disability as competing risk factors for nursing home use underestimate the contribution of arthritis because arthritis is a risk factor for disability; thus, the two variables may be strongly correlated.

Conclusions. More study is needed to understand the contribution of sex to prevalence of arthritis and severity of arthritis-specific disability. The route through which arthritis affects long-term care use also needs careful longitudinal study. If arthritis is confirmed to be a major risk factor for disability that leads to long-term care use, the development and testing of interventions to prevent/minimize arthritis-specific disability should be a major research priority.