Activity Limitation Due to Select Medical Conditions

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Lead Author(s): 

Stuart I. Weinstein, MD
Edward H. Yelin, PhD

Supporting Author(s): 

Sylvia I. Watkins-Castillo, PhD
Participants in the 2012 NHIS survey were asked about limitations they experience in activities of daily living (ADL) because of medical conditions. More than 34.5 million adults age 18 years and older, or 13% of the population, report they have difficulty performing routine ADL without assistance because of medical conditions. An additional 6.3 million children between the ages of 1 and 17 years are reported by their parents as needing more assistance in daily activities than would be expected for their age because of to a medical condition. While more than one medical condition could be reported, and often was, approximately one-half of both adults and children with ADL had a musculoskeletal condition that limits their activities. As the population ages, the prevalence rate in the population reporting limitations in ADL increases, and approaches one in four persons older than 75 years of age. (Reference Table 1.5.2 PDF CSV)
Self-Reported Limitations in Activities of Daily Living (ADL) for Persons Due to Select Medical Conditions by Age, United States 2012 
Back and neck problems are the most common musculoskeletal condition to cause limitations in ADL. However, as the population ages, arthritis or rheumatism is a more common cause. The mean years of duration reported for all musculoskeletal conditions is 12 to 17 years. Although there is an increase in years of duration as the population ages, even among young adults age 18 to 44, the duration of musculoskeletal conditions causing limitations is 8 to 10 years. (Reference Table 1.6.2 PDF CSV)
Cause of Self-Reported Limitations in Activities of Daily Living for Persons Due to Musculoskeletal Condition by Age, United States 2012
Reflecting the overall prevalence of medical conditions in females, they are also more likely to report impairment in ADL than are males. This is particularly true for musculoskeletal conditions. Females account for 52% of all persons reporting they are limited in activities of daily living; they account for 59% of those reporting a musculoskeletal condition impairment. Two of three adults age 18 and older (67%) reporting arthritis as a cause for ADL limitations are female, while 72% report connective tissue problems, including fibromyalgia, as the cause. (Reference Table 1.5.1 PDF CSV and Table 1.6.1 PDF CSV)

Members of the white and black/African American populations report limitations because of medical conditions in approximately the same proportions. Members of the Asian population are significantly less likely to report ADL limitations because of a medical condition. Members of other or mixed race are slightly more likely to report a limitation than found in other races. (Reference Table 1.5.3 PDF CSV and Table 1.6.3 PDF CSV)


  • 2014

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