Evidence for “accelerated aging” in older adults with disability?

TitleEvidence for “accelerated aging” in older adults with disability?
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsMolton IR, Goetz MC, Jensen MP, Verrall A
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society

BACKGROUND: Improvements in medical care have led to longer life-spans for people with disabilities acquired early in life. However, there is some evidence that these improvements in longevity are offset by increased rates of medical conditions, due to a more rapid decline of organ system functioning in persons with disability. This phenomenon has been called “accelerated aging.” However, the existence of this phenomenon has not been adequately established in large samples with adequate age-matched controls. METHODS: The present study assessed self-reported rates of certain medical conditions in a large national sample of people with either spinal cord injury (n=540), post-polio syndrome (446), muscular dystrophy (382) or multiple sclerosis (640), and compared them to normative data taken from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) of more than 21,000 adults. Health conditions assessed included hypertension, coronary artery disease, cancer, diabetes, pain conditions, and vision trouble. Comparisons were conducted in four age bands: 18-44, 45-65, 65-75, 75+. Chi-square and independent samples t-tests were used for all analyses. RESULTS:Participants in the experimental sample were primarily Caucasian (92%) and female (63.3%), with an average age of 54.5 years. Results suggested that, across age bands, individuals with disabilities reported greater rates of hypertension, arthritis, joint pain and difficulties with vision (all p values < 0.05). However, in more advanced age bands (65-75 and 75+), adults with disabilities also reported greater frequency of organ system diseases (diabetes, coronary artery disease, and cancer) than were present in age matched national norms (all p values < 0.01). CONCLUSIONS: These results lend support to the idea of “accelerated aging” of organ systems in persons growing older with longstanding physical disabilities. Health care providers should be aware of the special medical needs associated with organ system decline in these individuals.