Trends in Assistance with Daily Activities: Socioeconomic Disparities in the U.S. Older Population

Vicki A. Freedman, Polisher Research Institute
Linda G. Martin, Institute of Medicine
Jennifer C. Cornman, Polisher Research Institute
Emily M. Agree, Johns Hopkins University
Bob Schoeni, University of Michigan

Assistive technology has become increasingly important in facilitating independence among older Americans, and fewer older people are relying on personal care to assist with daily activities. It remains unclear, however, whether these trends have been experienced broadly. Using the 1992 to 2001 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, we provide evidence that among older people who have difficulty with daily activities, there has been: substantial increases in the independent use of assistive technology (without help), no significant changes in the proportion receiving any help, and declines in the proportion using neither help nor technology. Differentials in help by race/ethnicity, education, and income quartiles remain unchanged over this period. Increases in assistive technology use appear to be widespread; however, in one case—the use of only equipment for bathing—we find increases only for the most-educated. We discuss implications of findings for the study of late-life disability trends and in disparities therein.

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Presented in Session 95: Emerging Trends in the Health and Well-Being of Older Americans