Health Status Changes with Transitory Disability Over Time: Andrew Myers Discusses 2020 Best Paper in NARRTC Webinar

July 15, 2021

On July 14 RTC:Rural’s Andrew Myers presented highlights from "Health status changes with transitory disability over time," winner of the 2020 NARRTC Best Paper Award in a webinar for NARRTC.

A major challenge with disability research that Myers shared is that even the starting point - the definition of the word ‘disability’- varies drastically amongst researchers and the public, with connections to body function, the environment, social identity, demographics, health status and more. These varying definitions make disability status difficult to measure.

Efforts toward a standardized disability measurement have been in the works from various sources – Healthy People 2010, Washington Group on Disability Statistics – Short Set, and the Affordable Care Act (Section 4302). However, updating definitions presents a challenge: how to maintain continuity of data as measurement approaches change, especially for longitudinal data which is critical to tracking the efficacy of policies and services over time.

Myers’ group used a six-question set that asked questions to survey recipients querying difficulty doing certain tasks: walking, dressing, running errands, remembering, seeing, and hearing – which Myers acknowledges doesn't cover all impairments that may be part of the disability experience. The question set is designed to measure long-term, enduring disabilities. However, in conducting the research, Myers’ team discovered something unexpected.

From the survey answers, a distinct population emerged: people with transitory disabilities, which might come-and-go. Myers shared that many people, especially those who experienced occasional difficulty walking, may move in and out of disability until the age of 75, where much higher rates of people shift from having a transitory disability to an enduring one.

People who experienced changes in disability status also answered that their health-related quality of life changed, and indicated differences in mobility-equipment use, suggesting that these changes in disability status reflect real changes in their health and function.

These findings might lead to both a change in the understanding of disability research, but also a shift in public policy as far as it impacts people who have impairments – regardless of whether or not they identify as having a disability.

“How do we provide services to people who are on the cusp of transitioning into disability?” Myers asked. “I think housing design and Visitability are good opportunities to talk about that. Also, not just disability but getting older. We need to include those folks. Universal design can help a lot of people, beyond those who identify as having a disability.”

He acknowledged that further work would need to be done, and he would like to do more work around alongside people with disabilities whose lives are being impacted by research definitions of disability, impairment, and health terms.

“Folks who are being classified need to be consulted in how they are being classified, and does classification accurately represent their daily life,” Myers said. “My favorite next step would be talking to people who took the surveys – what made you says ‘Yes’ to this [question]? 'No' to this? Then testing development with those folks. What kind of question might capture your experience?”

Myers’ talk was the last of NARRTC’s planned webinar series ahead of the 2021 NARRTC Conference, which will be held in person October 19-20.

More Information:

Health Status Changes with Transitory Disability Over Time Presentation.pdf

Health status changes with transitory disability over time (Social Science & Medicine)