MONDAY, July 30, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Among older Americans with arthritis, blacks and Hispanics are twice as likely as whites to have a disability that interferes with daily living, new research shows.
Much of this disparity is due to differences in access to health care and personal health status, say researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
They examined data from the 1998-2004 Health and Retirement Study, a national study of older Americans who are not living in health care facilities. They analyzed health and lifestyle data from almost 7,300 respondents who reported arthritis but did not have a disability at the beginning of the six-year study. The group was 85.5 percent whites, 9.3 percent blacks, 2.4 percent Spanish-speaking Hispanics and 2.9 percent English-speaking Hispanics.
Disability was defined as an inability to perform at least one task in the activities of daily living: dressing, walking across a room, getting in or out of bed, bathing, eating and going to the bathroom.
The researchers report in the August edition of Arthritis Care & Research that one out of six participants had difficulty performing at least one of those daily tasks by the end of the study. Blacks and Hispanics who spoke Spanish were almost twice as likely to report a disability than whites; Hispanics who spoke English had rates of disability that were similar to whites.
The researchers divided Hispanics according to language because of the possible impact that speaking English might have on a person's ability to understand health information and seek out care.
The researchers found that access to medical care and other health conditions accounted for much of the difference in disability rates. They report that, in addition to having fewer economic resources, minorities were more likely to be uninsured or rely on Medicaid coverage, both of which may result in a lower quality of care or difficulty finding care.
The team also found that some of the differences in disability rates could be attributed to other chronic health conditions, physical limitations such as an inability to walk several blocks, and health behaviors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and regular exercise.
"At the clinical level, not only should treatment of co-morbid conditions be considered, but also disease prevention, prevention and treatment of functional limitations, and promotion of healthy behaviors should be a priority for all patients with arthritis to prevent the development of disability," the authors said in a prepared statement. Future research should be directed at how to more effectively deliver such programs especially to minority populations.
To learn more about arthritis, visit the Arthritis Foundation.