A New York Times article cited physical therapy as an important way for older adults to maintain independence and remain in one of a "more nuanced" set of groupings recently analyzed in a large-scale study of how older Americans adapt to disability.
The NYT article focused on a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (abstract only available for free) that looked at 38 million older adults enrolled in Medicare. Researchers divided these older adults into 5 categories that moved past the more common "disabled" vs. "independent" dichotomy, instead creating levels of independence delineated by use of assistance and attitudes about daily living.
According to the NYT article, researchers estimate that 56% of older Americans are living independently with no assistance or through the use of one of more assistive devices such as hearing aids, grab bars, and shower seats. At the other end of the spectrum, an estimated 20% of older adults rely on assistance with at least one task, or require nursing home care.
Of particular interest to researchers were the remaining 26% of older adults who reported that they had cut back on their range of daily activities yet do not acknowledge that they face limitations (6%) or who do acknowledge that some activities are difficult, but continue to live without assistive measures (18%). According to researchers, individuals in these categories are at risk for losing independence without some form of intervention, including physical therapy. The lead researcher is quoted in the article as saying that “Finding ways to promote independence and wellbeing in these groups, now that we’ve identified them, is an important public health goal."
The full research article will be available through ProQuest at APTA's Open Door after publication in an issue of the journal.
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