U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Activity Limitations

Although disability may be defined in many different ways, one common guideline is whether a person is able to perform common activities—such as walking up stairs, standing or sitting for several hours at a time, grasping small objects, or carrying items such as groceries—without assistance. While women and men of all ages may be limited in their ability to perform some of these activities, the proportion of adults with activity limitations increases with age. In 2008, more than 62 percent of adults aged 65 years and older reported having a condition that limited their ability to perform one or more of these common activities (data not shown). Women of this age were more likely than men to report being limited in their activities (68.4 versus 54.4 percent, respectively; data not shown).

The most common causes of activity limitations among women aged 65 years and older were arthritis (reported by 50.7 percent of women with limitations) and back and neck problems (19.8 percent). Heart problems were the next most common condition, reported among 7.2 percent of women with activity limitations.

The percentage of women aged 65 and older reporting at least one activity limitation varies with race and ethnicity. Non-Hispanic Black women (71.9 percent) were more likely than Hispanic and non-Hispanic White women (69.6 and 68.2 percent, respectively) to report any activity limitations (data not shown).

Dementia is characterized by loss of memory and a decline in cognitive functioning. In 2002, an estimated 3.4 million adults aged 71 years and older had dementia, 2.4 million of whom had Alzheimer’s disease (data not shown). Overall, women were more likely than men to have dementia (15.7 versus 11.1 percent, respectively); however this varied with age. For both men and women, the prevalence of dementia increases as age increases. Women and men aged 90 years and older were most likely to have dementia (34.7 and 44.6 percent, respectively) while those aged 71–79 years were least likely (4.8 and 5.3 percent, respectively).

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