Self‐Reported Causes of Physical Disability in Older People: The Cardiovascular Health Study

Walter H. Ettinger, Linda P. Fried, Tamara Harris, Lynn Shemanski, Richard Schulz, John Robbins, CHS Collaborative Research Group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE: To determine the major conditions and symptoms reported to cause difficulty in 17 physical tasks of daily life and the criterion validity of self‐report of diseases given as the causes of the difficulty in functioning, in community‐dwelling older people. DESIGN: Cross sectional analyses of data obtained in an observational cohort study. SETTING: Research clinics in four US communities: Winston‐Salem, NC, Hagerstown, MD, Pittsburgh, PA, and Sacramento, CA. PARTICIPANTS: 5201 community‐dwelling people ≥ 65 years old. RESULTS: Arthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases were given as the primary causes of difficulty in performing physical tasks by 49.0% of the participants reporting difficulty in any task, followed by heart disease (13.7%), injury (12.0%), old age (11.7%), lung disease (6.0%), and stroke (2.9%). The self‐reports of diseases that caused disability varied by task. Whereas arthritis was given as a cause of difficulty in most of the 17 different tasks, heart and lung disease were more likely to be reported as causing difficulty with activities requiring high aerobic work capacity such as walking one‐half mile or doing heavy housework. Stroke was more likely to be reported as causing difficulty with use of the upper extremities and in performing basic activities of daily living. There was a high degree of consistency (91%) between the diseases and symptoms reported to cause disabilities. The percentage of people who reported a disease as the cause of their difficulty performing a task and had independent confirmation of the diagnosis was 85% in men and 71% in women, and varied according to type of disease and the individual's cognitive status and health status. CONCLUSION: These data suggest that age‐related chronic diseases are important causes of disability in older people but that the type of disability is dependent on the underlying disease that causes the disability. Also, self‐report of the cause of disability appears to be generally accurate but is influenced by gender, health status, and type of disease. 1994 The American Geriatrics Society

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1035-1044
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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