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Trends in functional limitations among older Americans and possible reasons for such trends are documented here for the period of 1984 to 1993. The focus was on noninstitutionalized Americans (50 years and older) and their ability to see words in a newspaper, carry ten pounds, climb stairs, and walk one-quarter of a mile. Large declines were found in the crude prevalence of functional limitations, especially among those 80 years and older. Changes in population composition explained only a small portion of the downward trends. Changes in population composition, device use, survey design, role expectations, and living environments do not appear to account completely for improvements in functioning. Instead, changes in underlying physiological capability, real or perceived, probably underlie these trends.

Originally published in: American Journal of Public Health, v. 8, no. 10, October 1998, pp. 1457-1462.

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