Secondary health conditions among middle-aged individuals with chronic physical disabilities: implications for unmet needs for services.

Data from the Aging with Disability (AwD) Study are used to examine variations in the types and frequency of secondary conditions experienced by 301 middle-aged individuals living with the effects of three disabling conditions: polio (n = 124), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (n = 103), and stroke (n = 75). All respondents were randomly selected from a county rehabilitation hospital or a community-based subject pool. Secondary conditions are operationalized as (1) the number of new health problems diagnosed or treated since the onset of the primary disability and (2) the amount of change/decline in basic and instrumental daily activities since a previous reference period in the disability trajectory. Also analyzed are changes in use of assistive devices and unmet needs for services. Differences in secondary conditions are examined within the AwD sample by impairment group and between samples by comparing AwD rates to national estimates for the same cohort. Results reveal significant differences in the types of new health problems reported by persons living with polio, RA, and stroke and document marked disparities, or accelerated aging, between disabled and nondisabled adults. Findings are discussed in terms of the changing health care needs of persons aging with disability and the importance of improving access to preventive services, ongoing rehabilitation, and assistive technology.