Thousands of Medicare Senior Citizens Will Be Asked
to Join Study on Functional Ability
Long-term study will examine how the daily lives of
older adults change as they age
20, 2011 - Thousands of Medicare beneficiaries will receive an
invitation in May to be part of a special study looking at the impact of
age-related changes on functional ability. The National Health and Aging
Trends Study (NHATS) will be seeking some 9,000 senior citizens - aged
65 and older - to participate in this long-term study, funded by the
National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of
NHATS, led by Judith Kasper,
Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, will examine
how the daily lives of older adults change as they age. This research
will help scientists understand the social and economic consequences of
late-life disability for individuals, families, and society.
NHATS will complement and
extend the findings of the National Long-Term Care Survey, a study
supported by NIA from 1987-2006, which found that the level of
disability among older people declined significantly between 1982 and
"Many factors affect an older
person’s ability to function effectively and live independently," said
NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. "NHATS is designed to help us
understand the contributions of these factors to trends in the
prevalence, onset and recovery from functional limitations."
As they age, many people
experience problems in caring for themselves. These limitations are
typically measured by the need for help in activities of daily living
such as walking, dressing, and getting into and out of bed. Instrumental
activities of daily living, such as preparing a hot meal, making
telephone calls, and managing money, are associated with the ability to
NHATS will measure
participants’ abilities to perform these activities and ask them about
their need for assistance in carrying out these tasks. Changes in living
arrangements, medical and health care needs, and individual well-being
also will be measured during the study.
"The recently observed trend
toward decreasing rates of disability identified by the National Long
Term Care Survey and other national surveys may have leveled off, and
this has serious implications," said Richard Suzman, Ph.D., director of
NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, which is funding the
"Inability to live
independently will add to costs for long-term care and nursing home
stays, and reduce well-being among older people. This poses additional
challenges for the aging of the baby boom. It’s critical to track the
trend and understand its dynamics."
NHATS will develop a
nationally representative sample of Americans age 65 and older, selected
at random from Medicare enrollees. Study participants will be
interviewed in person in 2011 for the baseline sample and then once a
year. Researchers will also conduct short tests of function and physical
"We are sending information to
selected Medicare beneficiaries in May," said Kasper. "We hope that the
people we ask to participate will be able to join and contribute to this
A survey of the family members
and friends who help NHATS participants is being supported by the Office
of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, which, along
with NIH, is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The NIA leads the federal
government effort conducting and supporting research on aging and the
health and well-being of older people. The Institute’s broad scientific
program seeks to understand the nature of aging and to extend the
healthy, active years of life. For more information on research, aging,
and health, go to
About the National Institutes
of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27
Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting
and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and
is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and
rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit
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