How Seniors Manage to Adapt

Below is a great article from The New Old Age Blog that breaks down specifically what percentage of seniors are living at home independently without help, with help, and the varying ways that seniors have adapted to keep themselves at home. Thanks for visiting us at Advocare.

Many older adults want to live independently, without relying on assistance from others, for as long as they can. But how often does that actually happen?

A study published recently in the American Journal of Public Health attempts to answer the question by examining how seniors adapt to disability, an issue that hasn’t received much scholarly attention.

Disability, in the academic sense, refers to a reduced ability to perform activities such as bathing, using the toilet, getting around, cooking or shopping because of deteriorating strength, mobility, pain or other physical or cognitive challenges.

The study divided 38 million older adults enrolled in Medicare into five categories: people who live independently without any assistance, those with a disability who successfully use assistive technology (see the federal Administration on Aging’s definition), people who have cut back on activities but don’t acknowledge limitations, those who admit it’s hard to cope on their own but still do so, and those who rely on assistance from others.

Think of this as a spectrum of adaptation. The first two groups are doing just fine, while the next two groups have issues but are still finding ways to manage. By contrast, the fifth group has accepted that complete independence is no longer possible.

How do the numbers break out? In their new study, researchers from the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, the Urban Institute and other institutions analyzed a nationally representative sample of more than 8,000 seniors on Medicare from the National Health and Aging Trends Study, including a small subset of nursing home residents. The data were gathered in 2011, mostly through in-person interviews. From the findings, the researchers estimated the numbers of people in each category in the general population.

And the results: an estimated 12 million older adults are fully able to manage on their own without any type of help (31 percent of all seniors on Medicare); 9 million have successfully adapted to disability (25 percent); 2.1 million have reduced their activities without acknowledging limitations (6 percent); 7 million find it hard to function independently (18 percent); and 7.7 million received assistance with at least one task over the last month (about 20 percent, including 1.1 million seniors living in nursing homes).

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