Objective: To identify the trends of wheelchair use and physical characteristics among older people who used wheelchairs relative to those who did not. Design: Cohort and survey. Setting: General community. Participants: 7026 participants (N=7026) were selected from the 2011 cohort of the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), which is made up of Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 65. Repeated observations among participants in the 2011 cohort were analyzed in the 4 following rounds: 2013 (N=4454), 2015 (N=3327), 2017 (N=2623), and 2019 (N=2091). Participants were divided into 2 groups: those who used and did not use wheelchairs. Interventions: Not applicable. Main Outcomes Measures: Physical characteristics, including pain, strength limitation, balance problems, mobility disability, as well as the frequency of going outside. Results: The number of older adults who use wheelchairs had increased significantly from 4.7 per 100 people in 2011 to 7.1 in 2019 (P<.001). The logistic regression analysis indicated that participants who reported less frequently going out were at least 4.27 times more likely to be wheelchair users than non-wheelchair users (P<.01). Participants who reported health and physical problems were at least 2.48 times more likely to be wheelchair users than non-wheelchair users from 2011 to 2017 (P<.0001). Balance or coordination problems increased (24%-38%) significantly among non-wheelchair users from 2011 to 2019 (all P<.05). Conclusions: Current wheelchair users reported more physical difficulties and were much less likely to go outside. This lower outdoor mobility could be due to physical difficulties or potential barriers in physical and socio-cultural environments. In addition, older adults who do not use wheelchairs showed increasing physical problems over time (including balance or coordination problems). Clinicians should consider older wheelchair users’ health and physical limitations when prescribing wheelchairs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-524
Number of pages11
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • Aging
  • Physical problems
  • Rehabilitation
  • Trends
  • Wheelchair use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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