Contact: Jerry Carey
Researchers Unraveling Technology's Role in Declining
Disability Among the Elderly
(2/21/06)—In an era dominated by such sophisticated technology as magnetic resonance imaging, robotics and microsurgery, a researcher from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)-School of Public Health has shown how the use of some decidedly "low-tech" devices has significantly improved the lives of older Americans.
"We found that the use of basic devices such as canes, walkers and bathroom grab bars helps hundreds of thousands of older individuals to remain independent later in life," said Dr. Vicki Freedman, a professor in the Department of Health Systems and Policy at the UMDNJ-School of Public Health.
Writing in the February issue of The Gerontologist, Dr. Freedman and her fellow researchers used data covering the ten-year period beginning in 1992 to measure the impact these devices had in reducing an older individual’s need to depend on someone else to complete activities of daily living such as walking and bathing. They found that increases in the use of these basic devices accounted for half the decline in dependence on other individuals over this period.
"Walking is a great example of something that is essential for remaining independent in later life," Dr. Freedman said. "An individual who has difficulty walking on his or her own, may need help buying food, going to the doctor’s office or even getting to the bathroom. We found that increases in the use of basic assistive devices during the study period allowed 120,000 more older adults to walk on their own."
In their article, the researchers point out that during the period studied, Medicare limited its reimbursement to items classified as durable medical equipment.
"Growing numbers of elderly persons, fewer potential informal caregivers, and a shrinking long-term care workforce underscores the importance of public policies that promote access to assistive technologies as a means of enhancing independence in older populations," they wrote.
The study, co-authored by Emily Agree of Johns Hopkins University, Linda Martin of the Institute of Medicine, and Jennifer Corman of UMDNJ, was funded in part by the National Institute on Aging as part of a larger study to understand why disability is declining at older ages.
To request an interview with Dr. Freedman, please contact Jerry Carey, University News Service, at (856) 566-6171 or (973) 972-3000. Dr. Freedman's article is available online, click here.