BACKGROUND: Geographical information systems (GIS) have been used mainly in understanding infectious diseases and environmental threats in health research. Here, GIS was used to examine patterns of functional disability as one impact of chronic disease in American Indians and Alaska Natives. The study purpose was to create the first national mapping of functional disability for AIANs using the 2000 U.S. Census.
RESULTS: American Indians and Alaska Natives over age 65 reported disability at a rate of 57.6% versus 41.9% for all people over 65 (P < or = 0.0001). Regional differences in levels and type of disability were evident.
CONCLUSION: Maps help visualize those who might otherwise be ‘lost’ from the data. The significance of this study is that gerontologic programs and policies are data-driven, yet there is a lack of reliable national level data from US health systems on functional disability among American Indians and Alaska Natives. One study limitation was that Census questions regarding disability differed from traditional measures of activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living. An immediate policy recommendation would be to incorporate standard activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living language into future Census for a comprehensive, linked database for the future.