• function;
  • mortality;
  • frail;
  • risk;
  • survey

OBJECTIVES: To develop a simple method for identifying community-dwelling vulnerable older people, defined as persons age 65 and older at increased risk of death or functional decline. To assess whether self-reported diagnoses and conditions add predictive ability to a function-based survey.

DESIGN: Analysis of longitudinal survey data.

SETTING: A nationally representative community-based survey.

PARTICIPANTS: Six thousand two hundred five Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older.

MEASUREMENTS: Bivariate and multivariate analyses of the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey; development and comparison of scoring systems that use age, function, and self-reported diagnoses to predict future death and functional decline.

RESULTS: A multivariate model using function, self-rated health, and age to predict death or functional decline was only slightly improved when self-reported diagnoses and conditions were included as predictors and was significantly better than a model using age plus self-reported diagnoses alone. These analyses provide the basis for a 13-item function-based scoring system that considers age, self-rated health, limitation in physical function, and functional disabilities. A score of ≥3 targeted 32% of this nationally representative sample as vulnerable. This targeted group had 4.2 times the risk of death or functional decline over a 2-year period compared with those with scores <3. The receiver operating characteristics curve had an area of .78. An alternative scoring system that included self-reported diagnoses did not substantially improve predictive ability when compared with a function-based scoring system.

CONCLUSIONS: A function-based targeting system effectively and efficiently identifies older people at risk of functional decline and death. Self-reported diagnoses and conditions, when added to the system, do not enhance predictive ability. The function-based targeting system relies on self-report and is easily transported across care settings.