Prognostic Effect of Prior Disability Episodes Among Nondisabled Community-Living Older Persons

This study investigated whether prior disability could be related to future disability for older adults. A previous study assessed a sample of 580 adults (63.8 percent female and 90.5 percent non-Hispanic white) from New Haven, Connecticut who were at least 70 years of age. Assessment of this sample at the 18-month marker was used as the baseline or zero-time for the present study. Participants who were nondisabled at zero-time, were interviewed monthly for a three-year period to ascertain any episodes of disability. Multivariate analyses, specifically the Cox proportional hazard method, explored whether disability during the year before zero-time would be related to disability over the next three years when other variables, such as physical frailty or sex, were taken into account. Results found that prior disability was significantly related to subsequent disability, with hazard ratios of 2.0 for any (at least a one month episode) and persistent (at least a two month episode) disability, even when adjusting for other variables and when participants with past chronic disability were excluded from the analysis. The study found that assessing an individual's disability more often will yield a more precise picture of the role that short-term disability plays in regard to future disability and daily life in general for older adults in the community.