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Women with disabilities report poorer health and more problems accessing health care than other women

About 16 percent of adult women have difficulty with at least one of eight functional limitations (FL), according to a national study. These limitations range from difficulty lifting 10 pounds or walking up 10 steps without resting to difficulty standing for 20 minutes or using fingers to grasp or handle something. Women with functional limitations tend to have poorer health than other women, and those with three or more FLs are more likely to report being unable to get medical and dental care than other women, concludes a new study.

Frances M. Chevarley, Ph.D., of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and coinvestigators analyzed data from the 1994-1995 National Health Interview Survey, Supplement on Disability (NHIS-D) of U.S. civilian noninstitionalized persons. They compared the demographic characteristics, reported health measures, clinical preventive services, access to care indicators, and health insurance of women with one or two FLs and three or more FLs with women with no FLs.

The prevalence of having at least one FL increased with age, from 6 percent of women aged 18 to 44 years up to 65 percent of women 85 years and older. The proportion of black non-Hispanic women who had three or more FLS (12.1 percent) was higher than for Hispanic women (8.8 percent) and white non-Hispanic women (7.1 percent).

Women with FLs were less likely to rate their health as excellent or very good and more likely to report their health as fair or poor than women with no FLs. Women with FLs were also more likely to currently smoke, have hypertension, be overweight, and experience mental health problems. Among women 65 years or older, those with FLs were less likely to have received Pap smear tests within the past year and those with three or more FLs were less likely to have received mammograms within the past year than women with no FLs.

Women with three or more FLs were more likely to report being unable to get general medical care, dental care, prescription medicines, or eyeglasses, regardless of age group, compared with women with no FLs. The main reasons reported for being unable to receive general care were financial problems or limitations in health insurance.

More details are in "Health, preventive health care, and health care access among women with disabilities in the 1994-1995 national health interview survey, supplement on disability," by Dr. Chevarley, JoAnn M. Thierry, Ph.D., Carol J. Gill, Ph.D., and others, in the November/December 2006 Women's Health Issues 16, pp. 297-312.

Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 07-R037) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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