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Keywords:

  • minority disparities;
  • disability;
  • Medicare

OBJECTIVES: To examine racial and ethnic disparities in mobility limitation, activities of daily living (ADLs), and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) in older adults enrolled in Medicare.

DESIGN: Longitudinal national survey.

PARTICIPANTS: Community-dwelling respondents in the Medicare Current Beneficiaries Survey from 1992 to 2004 (10,180–16,788 respondents per year).

MEASUREMENTS: Disability-related outcomes included mobility limitation, difficulty in six ADLs and six IADLs. Explanatory variables included age, sex, racial or ethnic group, living situation, and income level.

RESULTS: From 1992 to 2004, proportions of Medicare beneficiaries with mobility limitations were stable across racial and ethnic groups, improving slightly for ADLs and IADLs. Blacks reported more limitations in all three disability-related measures. In a longitudinal analysis, the probability of developing mobility limitation was consistently higher for blacks, followed by white Hispanics, white non-Hispanics, and Asians, after adjusting for age, sex, socioeconomic status, and living situation. For ADL and IADL difficulties, the number of reported difficulties increased with age for all ethnic and racial groups. At approximately age 75, Asians and white Hispanics reported difficulties with much higher numbers of ADLs and IADLs than the other groups.

CONCLUSION: Across all ethnic and racial groups, self-reported disability has declined in the past decade, but even after adjusting for age, sex, socioeconomic status, and living situation, racial and ethnic disparities in disability outcomes persist. Race and ethnicity may influence the reporting of disability, potentially affecting measures of prevalence. Further research is needed to understand whether these differences are a result of perceptions related to disablement or true differences in disability between racial and ethnic groups.