Most seniors with chronic health problems have few durable functional assets

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Much of what function seniors had prior to their deaths may not last as long as they hoped, a new study suggests.

For the study, researchers examined data from more than 160,000 people drawn from a database of vital statistics. They found that more than 10 million would need to develop durable functional assets that provide a lasting measure of independence or self-sufficiency, such as clothing, swimming pool and car.

“We know that there is a dearth of thought and money into looking at reducing disability in older people,” said lead author Dr. Savannah Ryan of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. “We wanted to give folks a way to do it.”

The analysis should reassure people who have been concerned by the lack of surgical therapy for back pain, for instance, as well as cystitis, Ryan said. Charit (Lash) Blurton, a researcher at the University of Virginia, agreed that this lack of clinical study could lead to missed opportunities to improve care.

“While PPE can be really helpful for chronic diseases, it has to take longer than we hope for before we’ll need to consider disability claims,” Blurton said.

She pointed to an ongoing controversy in the New York Times Magazine , which said Blurton was unfairly accusing staff of punishing nurses and doctors.

“She’s really been able to see this very clearly that there is ample evidence to support reclaiming,” Ryan said. “We have a robust work force and that’s a reason we continued to meet.”

She also said that the similarities between the methods used by the World Health Organization and the United Nations, where some people are targeted for preventative treatment before they require surgery, are not an issue.

“We have a near perfect overview because we have those global considerations,” Ryan said. “We had those onscreen, the WHO decision-making processes around the time of the initial MERS outbreak that would have been considered before we moved to the current system, and now that the disease has passed, we no longer have that.”

She says other organizations such as the UK's National Institute of Mental Health, the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, and others have used their resource to assess the impact of disability claims.

“There really aren’t any differences between aging societies and what the United Nations is looking at,” Ryan said. “We have comparable global data. We have language from the WHO common access database. There are similar rigorous standards for disability case access in the OODA common access database, and the WHO data are to be used for that purpose.”

And while there is more work to do, Ryan said it is possible to predict disability claims issued by people with schizophrenia and other disabilities in the database.

A challenge for the researchers was finding a way to factor in another factor that could account for disability claimant characteristics such as age, severe health conditions and other factors, such as the age of the person when the issues started, how it affected their memory and mental functioning, and whether they could speak the language they did at the time of their diagnosis.

“It’s really a collaborative effort,” Ryan said. “There are people who do really different types of disabilities related to aging, and this is just the start of the work to tell us more about the problem and how people achieve and contribute to disability societal acceptance.”

Ryan is conducting additional research to examine the promise of disability support.