NIH to Survey Functional Changes in the Elderly

Apr 26, 2011, 6:26 PM

new survey by the National Institute on Aging will look at how aging affects the daily lives of older U.S. adults. Beginning in May, the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS) will begin inviting about 9,000 Medicare beneficiaries, age 65 and older, to participate in the long-term study.

"Many factors affect an older person’s ability to function effectively and live independently," says NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. "NHATS is designed to help us understand the contributions of these factors to trends in the prevalence, onset and recovery from functional limitations."

Many people experience difficulty caring for themselves as they get older, according to the NIA. This can be seen in their increased need for help with daily activities such as walking, dressing and getting into/out of bed — issues that affect whether a person can live on their own. The survey will measure participants’ abilities to perform these activities. It will also ask about what assistance they may need, such as changes in living arrangements or health care needs.

"Inability to live independently will add to costs for long-term care and nursing home stays, and reduce well-being among older people,” says Richard Suzman, Ph.D., director of NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, which is funding the NHATS study. “This poses additional challenges for the aging of the baby boom. It’s critical to track the trend and understand its dynamics.”

Study participants will be interviewed in person in 2011 for baseline information, then once a year going forward. Researchers will also conduct physical performance tests.

The survey will be led by Judith Kasper, Ph.D. a professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. A companion survey will be sent to family members and friends who assist the study participants.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.