Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.
Tuesday, December 3, 2002
Participation and Activity Limitation Survey: A profile of disability in Canada2001
One out of every seven Canadians aged 15 and over - an estimated 3.4 million people - reported some level of disability in 2001, according to a new report profiling people whose everyday activities are limited by a physical or psychological condition or by a health condition.
The disabilities, which were self-reported to interviewers over the telephone, ranged from milder limitations, such as a backache, to more severe ones, such as loss of mobility because of arthritis. Of the 3.4 million adults reporting disabilities, 1.1 million reported mild levels of disability, 855,000 reported moderate levels, and 1.4 million reported severe or very severe levels.
These 3.4 million individuals represented 14.6% of the adult population. Accounting for the different levels of severity, the disability rate in the adult population was 5.0% for mild disabilities, 3.6% for moderate disabilities and 5.9% for severe and very severe disabilities.
In general, the disability rate was higher among women. About 1.9 million women aged 15 and over, or 15.7%, reported having a disability, compared with just over 1.5 million men (13.4%). The highest rates occurred in the age group 75 and over, where more than one-half of both men and women reported a disability.
This report is based on results of the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS), for which 35,000 adults and 8,000 children who lived in households in the provinces were interviewed. Residents of institutions, such as nursing homes, were excluded.
Disabilities involving mobility most common among adults
The type of disability reported most often involved mobility. Just under 2.5 million people aged 15 and over had difficulty walking, climbing stairs, or moving from one room to another.
More than 1 million adults reported hearing difficulties and some 600,000 had a problem with their vision. More than half-a-million adults reported limitations that were the result of emotional, psychological or psychiatric conditions.
Among seniors aged 65 and over, mobility problems affected an estimated 1.1 million individuals. In addition, more than 887,000 seniors reported they were disabled because of pain.
Activity limitations were reported for close to 181,000 children aged 14 and under. Of these, 26,000 were younger than five and about 155,000 were school-age children. Almost 43% of children with disabilities had severe or very severe disabilities.
Although children aged 14 and under had the lowest rates of disability, they had their own unique conditions. The most widespread disability, reported for 118,000 youngsters, was related to chronic health conditions that reduced activities, such as asthma.
Learning disabilities were reported for an estimated 100,000 school-age children (5 to 14). These children accounted for almost two-thirds of all school-age children who reported disabilities.
One-third of adults with disabilities experience severe or very severe activity limitations
The survey distinguished four levels of severity: mild, moderate, severe and very severe. The level of severity assigned by the survey depended not only on the severity of each type of disability, but also on the number of disabilities per individual.
For instance, persons with activity limitations related to difficulty hearing, walking half a kilometre, dressing and undressing and remembering, would have a more severe level of disability than persons reporting only occasional activity limitations related to hearing problems.
The survey found that one-third of adults with disabilities (1.1 million) had a mild degree of activity limitations. At the other end of the spectrum, at least one in four adults with disabilities, or about 919,000, experienced severe activity limitations, and an additional 480,000, or 14.0%, had very severe limitations.
Like the number of disabilities, the severity of disabilities appears to increase gradually with age.
Men were more likely than women to experience a mild degree of limitation, and a higher proportion of women than men experienced a severe level. The proportion with very severe disabilities was the same for the two sexes.
Pain most common form of disability among working-age adults
Certain types of disabilities were especially prevalent within the working-age population, resulting in a larger number of disabilities in adults aged 15 to 64.
In total, almost 2.0 million people in this working-age group reported some form of disability. These individuals accounted for about one out of every 10 working-age people in Canada. Of these, 53.2% were women.
Three-quarters of these individuals, or just under 1.5 million, reported pain as an activity limitation. Working-age women were especially affected by pain.
The survey questionnaire covered not only pain that was always present, but also pain that recurred periodically, such as migraines or backache. Nearly 70% of working-age people who had pain-related limitations experienced pain constantly; the remaining 30% were affected by recurrent periods.
Mobility problems affect 8 in 10 seniors with disabilities
An estimated 1.45 million seniors aged 65 and over, or about 40% of the total population in this age group, reported some form of disability in 2001.
Of these, mobility problems affected the vast majority - more than 1.1 million, or nearly 8 for every 10 who reported disabilities. Just over 1.0 million seniors also reported problems with agility - for example, they had difficulty getting dressed or cutting food.
An estimated 573,000 seniors, or 40% of all those with disabilities, reported severe or very severe limitations. The majority of these seniors were women, reflecting women's longer life expectancy.
Activity limitations related to memory problems are often associated with aging. An estimated 153,000 seniors, 4% of all seniors, said they were limited by memory problems or periods of confusion.
The proportion of people with activity limitations related to memory disorders increased slightly with age up to 85, when, according to PALS results, there was a decline in this type of disability. This could be explained in part by the fact that many elderly people experiencing memory disorders or periods of confusion no longer lived in a private household. As residents of an institution, they were not included in the PALS target population.
Chronic health conditions, such as asthma, most prominent among children
Almost 181,000 youngsters aged 14 and under, or 3.3% of the total in the age group, had some form of disability. These disabilities included chronic conditions, such as asthma, and other limitations, such as speech problems. Of these children, the vast majority (113,200) were boys.
The main disability in this age group was an activity limitation related to one or more chronic health conditions, such as asthma. These affected some 117,500 children, or 65% of those with disabilities. (Chronic health conditions not causing activity limitations were not considered a disability.)
One-half of children aged 14 and under who had this type of disability were limited by a single chronic health condition, nearly 30% by two such conditions, and more than 20% by three or more.
The survey also found an estimated 100,400 children aged 5 to 14 who had learning disabilities. Twice as many boys were reported as having this disability than girls.
Speech-related disabilities affected 67,000 school children, or 43% of those with disabilities. Again, twice as many boys had this limitation than girls.
Among school children aged 5 to 14, chronic conditions were also the top activity limitation, while learning disabilities were a close second.
Nearly 32% of children aged five to 14 with disabilities, roughly 49,000, were identified by their parent as having emotional, psychological or behavioural conditions that limited their activities. Developmental disabilities affected nearly 46,000, or 29.8% of children with disabilities aged 5 to 14.
Information on methods and data quality available in the Integrated Meta Data Base: survey number 3251.
The article A profile of disability in Canada, 2001 (89-577-XIE, free), the data tables A profile of Disability in Canada, 2001 - Tables (89-579-XIE, free) and the report A new approach to disability data: Changes between the 1991 Health and Activity Limitation Survey (HALS) and the 2001 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) (89-578-XIE, free) are now available on Statistics Canada's website (). From the Our products and services page, under Browse our Internet publications, choose Free, then Health.
For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Renée Langlois (613-951-0878) or Catherine Allan (613-951-8658), Housing, Family and Social Statistics Division.