Older people recover from disabling events at higher rate than previously thought

April 06, 2004

Approximately four out of every five newly-disabled older people regain the ability to live independently within 6 months of their disability episode, a higher recovery rate than previously reported, according to a study by Susan E. Hardy, M.D. and Thomas M. Gill, M.D., Yale University School of Medicine. The study was conducted at Yale's Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health.

"Our study offers good news to older people: the chance of recovery from an episode of disability is excellent. However, once older people recover, they are at very high risk for recurrent episodes of disability. Future research needs to develop ways to help older people who are newly recovered to maintain their independence," Hardy said. The study, "Recovery from Disability Among Community-Dwelling Older Persons," will appear in the April 7, 2004, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"This study offers new and compelling evidence that becoming disabled in old age is not necessarily a life sentence," says Evan Hadley, M.D., Associate Director of NIA, Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology Program.

The majority of people in this study who recovered from disability maintained their independence for at least 6 months. But for many, recovery from disability was short-lasting, especially among people with a disability lasting 2 or more months. While the short-term prognosis for recovery is good for many older people, the findings of recurring disability suggest the need to prevent disability in the first place and also to prevent recurrence.

Researchers used data from a unique longitudinal study to evaluate the recovery process among 754 community-dwelling residents of New Haven, CT, aged 70 years or older. The study measured disability in terms of "activities of daily living," such as bathing, dressing, walking, or getting out of a chair.
This research was funded by the NIA and the Paul Beeson Physician Faculty Scholars in Aging Research Program. The core focus of the Yale Pepper Center is the development and testing of multi-disciplinary interventions aimed at maintaining and/or improving the functional ability of older people. It is one of 10 such Centers funded by the NIA.

The NIA leads the Federal effort supporting and conducting research on aging and the health and well-being of older people. Its website can be viewed at www.nia.nih.gov.

NIH/National Institute on Aging

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