The background to this work was the expected increase in the proportion of elderly people in the population, giving rise to a greater demand for services at a time of scarcity of healthcare resources. The aims of the study were to investigate disability and health in a sample of elderly people living at home in the community. We wished to obtain detailed information about physical disability and health then to explore individual perceptions of health and disability and, finally, to examine relationships between the objective assessments and individual, subjective perceptions. The results reported here represent only part of the work of a larger study which also investigated the use of health and social services in this sample of elderly people. In-depth interviews were undertaken with a random stratified population sample of 200 elderly people living at home. Analysis of interview data showed that, by use of a multidimensional scale of disability, just over one-third of the sample could be classified as ‘disabled’. The mobility status of the sample was, in general, good with only small numbers spending most of their time in a wheelchair. The total sample scored highly on activities of daily living, though those classified as disabled were significantly less independent. The mean number of reported health conditions was less than might have been expected in an elderly population. One-third of the subjects in the sample showed discrepancies between their own assessment of their disability and objective assessments. These discrepancies could partly be explained by a combination of individuals' assessment of their own abilities and their beliefs about factors influencing disability. Measures of disability, or activity associated with daily living, were related to perceptions of health, whereas the number of current health problems was not. The factors which determined perceptions of health or disability were: walking unaided and general levels of activity. Health was perceived in terms of what one could do rather than the presence of current diseases or conditions. The results suggested that when planning treatment for elderly people, physiotherapists and others should consider individual variability in perceptions of disability and health, as well as objective assessments. The importance of locomotion in the value systems of elderly people emphasises the high profile of physiotherapy in the care of elderly people. Copyright © 1996 Whurr Publishers Ltd.
- individual perceptions