Examining Late-Life Functional Limitation Trajectories and Their Associations with Underlying Onset, Recovery, and Mortality

Published in: The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, v. 69, no. 2, Mar. 2014, p. 275-286

Posted on RAND.org on March 01, 2014

by Zachary Zimmer, Linda G. Martin, Bobby L. Jones, Daniel S. Nagin

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OBJECTIVES: Identify common trajectories of physical functional limitation and mortality among Taiwanese 50 and older as they age, link these to underlying transitions in onset, recovery, and mortality, and assess associations between trajectories and a set of risk factors. METHOD: Longitudinal data from 4 waves of the Survey of Health and Living Status of the Middle-Aged and Elderly in Taiwan, collected between 1996 and 2007, are analyzed using a summary measure indicating difficulty with one or more of 7 physical functions. A group-based trajectory model identifies common trajectories. Shorter term transition probabilities that underlie multiperiod trajectories are examined. Multinomial regression associates risk factors with trajectory group membership. RESULTS: Best fitting the data is a model with 3 groups characterized as early, mid, and late onset of limitation. Roughly half the population follows the trajectory of mid onset and a quarter each of the other 2. Females and those least educated are most likely to belong to the early-onset group. DISCUSSION: The analysis advances understanding of late-life functioning by focusing on the heterogeneity of functional limitation experience, appropriately accounting for the relation between functional limitation and mortality and linking long-term patterns with short-term changes in functional limitation.

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