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New AARP Report: Americans with Disabilities Age 50 and Over Strive for Independence Despite Lack of Coherent Support System

AARP Report on Trends in Long-Term Services Finds More Years of Life Do Not Result in More Disabilities–Offering Opportunity for Future Long-Term Care Services

A new study from AARP reports that more than anything Americans, with disabilities age 50 and over want independence and control in their daily lives, but they are too often thwarted by the lack of affordable options to help meet their needs. Further, the absence of an organized system for delivering services means many persons with disabilities and the family members who often assist them are unaware of existing support sources.

The report, "Beyond 50 2003: A Report to the Nation on Independent Living and Disability," includes results of the first ever national survey of Americans age 50+ with disabilities. The report documents the gap between what they say they need and what is available. It also raises concerns that the U.S. is ill-prepared to meet the demand for independence among people over the age of 50 who will experience disabilities in the coming decades.

"Long-term independence for persons with disabilities is an increasingly achievable social goal," AARP Policy and Strategy Director John Rother said. "But it will require time and the collective creativity of the public and private sectors," he explained. "Meanwhile, even minor changes can lead—at least in the short-term—to important life-style improvements for those with disabilities today. Broader long-term improvements will require fundamental policy changes," Rother said.

"As the influx of Boomers enters their 50's and 60's, they will bring their attitudes of competitive consumerism to health care delivery, and will demand greater choice and control of available services," explained Rother. "The good news is that there is time to prepare for those demands," he continued. "Along with improvements in medicine and health, we are seeing some declines in disability. New technologies are also extending Americans' years of independence.

The "Beyond 50" report, the third in a series of annual AARP comprehensive studies on the status of Americans over age 50, found that almost half (46%) of 50-plus Americans with disabilities (including nearly 60 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64) believe that having more control over decisions about services and the help they need would bring a major improvement in the quality of their lives. In the same vein, Americans 50+ with disabilities say their greatest fear is loss of independence and mobility.

Currently, most of those with disabilities (51%) are managing independently, with less than half (49%) receiving any regular help with daily activities, such as cooking, bathing and shopping. However, more than half of those with disabilities (53%) also say they were unable to do something they needed or wanted to do in the past month—quite often basic tasks such as household chores or exercise.

Most (88%) of the help people reported receiving is volunteer assistance from family or other informal caregivers. Most persons 50 and older with disabilities (61%) strongly prefer this type of assistance with everyday tasks. And only one out of three uses any community-based service.

Some of the unmet needs could be met by making modest independence-enhancing assistive equipment (such as walkers and wheelchairs) and new technologies more widely available, the report concluded. Others, such as for more human assistance with daily activities, will take more resources. As many as 3 million (almost 25%) persons 50+ with disabilities need more help than they receive now with daily activities.

The "Beyond 50" report found that, on average, people with disabilities 50 and older give their community a grade of B-/C+ as a place that makes it possible for them to live independently. While some community features receive good marks, others—most notably, public transportation—are rated poorly.

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