Recent findings indicating that arthritis is a major contributor to disability in elderly persons are based on self-reported diagnostic information. We conducted physical examinations of the joints at baseline on 541 older persons. We then tested a multivariate model of total/generic disability which included respondent group, demographic and chronic disease variables (joint impairment and comorbid conditions), arthritis pain, and psychological status. Hierarchical multiple regression found that the model explained 55 percent (adjusted R2 = .55) of the variance in baseline disability with joint impairment accounting for 15 percent (change in R2 = .15) of the variance. When joint impairment was removed from the model, arthritis pain worked well as a surrogate. Together, these findings strongly support the importance of musculoskeletal disease in explaining disability in the elderly population.
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