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Glossaries in public health: older people
  1. A Bowlinga,
  2. S Ebrahimb
  1. aDepartment of Population Sciences and Primary Care, University College London, Royal Free Campus, London NW3 2PF, UK, bMRC Health Services Research Collaboration, Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol
  1. Professor Bowling (a.bowling{at}

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Humanity is growing older. The falls in mortality and fertility rates occurring in all but sub-Saharan African countries have brought the issue of population aging, and the associated changes in disease burdens and health care provision, into the limelight. Population aging represents one of the most profound social, health and economic challenges facing us. Research in this area has been under-valued and under-funded for decades but despite this, important concepts have been developed and a vocabulary has emerged that may be unfamiliar to scientists across different disciplines. Researchers in this area are drawn from a wide range of parent disciplines and bring a richness of research methods, but this may be confusing to the uninitiated. For these reasons, we think that a glossary of widely used terms may be of value to both scientists and policy makers, as well as to the new recruits and those who want to read and better understand our work.

Activities of daily living (ADL): personal care tasks such as eating/drinking, washing self, using the toilet, rising from a chair, getting in/out of bed, moving around indoors, dressing, walking outdoors.

Activity, or role, theory: a theory emphasising the importance of pertinent social roles in determining individual identity, behaviour and social functioning. It is argued that involvement in new social roles, and activities that are meaningful to people, enhances feelings of well being and self esteem in older age.

Age based health service rationing: the imposition of upper age cut offs, sometimes representing retirement age, or digit preference, on provision of health services in order to contain health care costs.

Age cohort modelling, period cohort modelling: examination of secular trends in incidence or mortality using mathematical modelling to examine contribution of age, time period and birth cohort to observed trends. Age, period and cohort are linearly …

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