Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

118 Mixed Measures: Distinguishing Disability From Aging In Social Science Research On Successful Aging

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 10:00 AM-11:45 AM
Penn Quarter B (Grand Hyatt Washington)
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Michelle Putnam, PhD, Simmons College, Terry Y. Lum, PhD, The University of Hong Kong and Elizabeth Lightfoot, PhD, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
This roundtable session is intended to foster discussion about how social work researchers disentangle concepts and measures relating to disability and aging in their research and the state of the science in this area of scholarship. Recently, more scholarly attention is being paid to the measurement of disability, particularly in comparison to the measurement of aging. Over the past decade, demographers in aging have attempted to understand fluctuations in disability rates among older adults and determine whether reported corresponding trends in declines in the prevalence of disability are in indeed real. In other social science fields, including social work, emphasis has been placed on interpreting definitions of aging and disability in regards to their outcomes (e.g. successful aging). Yet in fields such as rehabilitation science, researchers are tackling issues of operationalizing disability broadly to encompass aging concerns, and are encouraging adoption of universal models and measures of disability, including the World Health Organization's International Classification of Function (ICF). All of these efforts amount to an important, but sometimes thorny methodological debate about how indeed should scientists measure disability, how disability is conceptually different than aging, and how disability and aging correlates to quality of life outcomes. Becoming clear about theoretical definitions, methodology and measures is critical to producing thoughtful research that is useful and translatable across disciplines.

The session will begin with a discussion on the different theoretical models of disability, focusing specifically on distinctions between disability definitions within the commonly used ICF primarily employed by disability researchers and some health researchers internationally, and that of functional limitation scales (ADLs, IADLs) regularly used by aging researchers. The ICF model categories health and disability related experiences beyond the concept of disease, and includes both environmental and personal determinants of outcomes, while the ADLs and IADLs focus on functional limitations. The roundtable will discuss both the theoretical and methodological overlaps and distinctions between using the ICF model and the functional limitation scales in research. The discussion will move on to identify differences within the aging population specifically highlighting distinctions between adults who are aging with disability and those who are aging into disability and how they are counted and evaluated in research. Difficulties with measuring and interpreting time variables, such as age of onset verses chronological age, will be presented and audience discussion encouraged. Finally, this roundtable will focus on successful aging among those who are aging with a disability and those who are aging into disability. Successful aging refers to multidimensional factors that contribute to maintaining good physical and mental health, cognitive functioning and sustained active engagement in social and productive activities in the aging process. These factors may vary across people who are aging with disability and people who are aging into disability. The challenge of measuring successful aging across these two groups will be presented and discussed. This roundtable will be facilitated by SSWR members affiliated with the Special Interest Groups in both Aging and Disabilities and will be structured to encourage active participation by attendees.

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