How important is functional status as a predictor of service use by older people?

S L Tennstedt, L M Sullivan, J B McKinlay, R B D'Agostino
Journal of Aging and Health 1990, 2 (4): 439-61
In studies of older people, it is often assumed that biophysical, or functional, status is the primary determinant of formal service use. This article reports baseline data from a longitudinal study of a community-based, linked random sample of frail elders (n = 635) and their informal caregivers (n = 429) to investigate the relative contribution of social circumstances to the use of community-based formal services. Elder respondents were categorized into three groups defined by their primary source of care: (a) informal only, (b) mixed help with predominantly informal care, (c) mixed help with predominantly formal services. Of the respondents, 79% received most of their help from informal caregivers, whereas 21% relied on formal services for most of their assistance. A series of logistic regression models were developed to identify variables that discriminated between major sources of care. The social factor of living alone is the consistent predictor of reliance on formal services. Only for those elders living alone does the physical factor of level of frailty predict reliance on formal services. Elders who live with a caregiver, particularly a spouse, are likely not to use any formal services regardless of their level of frailty. Finally, elders reliant on formal services receive much less care overall.

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