Disability and Aging

Disability refers to a wide range of health states that impair bodily, physical, cognitive, sensory, social, or self-care functions. This entry treats the concept broadly, using the World Health Organization definition of disability as “a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.” In the context of aging, disability is often a transition or series of transitions rather than a stable state, representing a change in everyday function and precipitating change in social roles and self-identity. Limitations on activities of daily life increase with time for most older adults, demanding adaptation.

Disability transitions are an important—and common—feature of aging in high-income countries. In the United States, 40% of adults 65 years ...

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