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Measurement of the severity of disability in community-dwelling adults and older adults: interval-level measures for accurate comparisons in large survey data sets
  1. José Buz1,
  2. María Cortés-Rodríguez2
  1. 1Department of Developmental Psychology, University of Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain
  2. 2Faculty of Sciences, Department of Statistics, University of Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain
  1. Correspondence to Dr José Buz; buz{at}


Objectives To (1) create a single metric of disability using Rasch modelling to be used for comparing disability severity levels across groups and countries, (2) test whether the interval-level measures were invariant across countries, sociodemographic and health variables and (3) examine the gains in precision using interval-level measures relative to ordinal scores when discriminating between groups known to differ in disability.

Design Cross-sectional, population-based study.

Setting/participants Data were drawn from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), including comparable data across 16 countries and involving 58 489 community-dwelling adults aged 50+.

Main outcome measures A single metric of disability composed of self-care and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) and functional limitations. We examined the construct validity through the fit to the Rasch model and the know-groups method. Reliability was examined using person separation reliability.

Results The single metric fulfilled the requirements of a strong hierarchical scale; was able to separate persons with different levels of disability; demonstrated invariance of the item hierarchy across countries; and was unbiased by age, gender and different health conditions. However, we found a blurred hierarchy of ADL and IADL tasks. Rasch-based measures yielded gains in relative precision (11–116%) in discriminating between groups with different medical conditions.

Conclusions Equal-interval measures, with person-invariance and item-invariance properties, provide epidemiologists and researchers with the opportunity to gain better insight into the hierarchical structure of functional disability, and yield more reliable and accurate estimates of disability across groups and countries. Interval-level measures of disability allow parametric statistical analysis to confidently examine the relationship between disability and continuous measures so frequent in health sciences (eg, cholesterol, blood pressure, C reactive protein).

  • Rasch modelling
  • Geriatric assessment
  • Disability

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