Advances in conceptual thinking since the development of activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) provide new opportunities to expand the range of questions that might be answered with survey data. Standardization of disability measures, for example, may promote comparisons across surveys, groups, and countries. Distinguishing physiological, environmental, and social components of disability may help policy makers better target resources at interventions likely to have high impact on population disability rates. Moreover, such distinction can help researchers track and understand shifts in population-level disability trends. Widespread use of these new measures could also improve our understanding at the individual level of the physiology of functional loss and recovery, the accommodation process, and the effectiveness of interventions to enhance independence and participation. Many of the advances discussed here are quite recent and have not been routinely incorporated into most national surveys that address late-life disability.
The workshop on Improving Survey Measures of Late-Life Disability, held in May 2005 at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, reviewed advances in our understanding and measurement of late-life disability with the aim of answering two fundamental questions:
- Are our current measures of late-life disability meeting the needs of researchers and policy makers?
- How can we improve measures of late-life disability within current surveys?
The meeting involved three sessions. The first session included a panel discussion to flesh out the opportunities that new measures of disability might provide to policy makers and researchers. The second session highlighted research by six speakers, each focusing on an innovation in disability measurement. The final session involved a panel discussion about the practical considerations in implementing new measurement techniques with the aim of identifying the most promising strategies. The complete workshop agenda and biographies of participants are included in the Appendix.