Grade of membership (GOM) representations are used to characterize and compare the health status of a very heterogeneous sample of blacks and whites in an elderly cohort of 2,806 noninstitutionalized men and women living in New Haven, Connecticut. They were interviewed in 1982 as part of the Established Populations for the Epidemiologic Study of the Elderly (EPESE). Ideal profiles based on functional disabilities, chronic diseases, and selected biomedical and behavioral risk factors are constructed empirically. Each individual in the sample is represented by a set of GOM scores, interpreted as degrees of similarity of his or her health record to each of the profiles. Four profiles emerge from GOM analyses: healthy elderly, elderly with cognitive impairment, elderly with impairment in mobility function and physical performance and with selected chronic conditions, and elderly with major limitations in activities of daily living and multiple chronic conditions. Although elderly blacks and whites generally have similar configurations of profiles, there are important differences, especially when chronic conditions are related to specific types of functional impairments. Questions about and claims for black/white mortality crossovers at older ages, usually addressed with aggregate data, are examined conditional on GOM scores that correspond to diverse combinations of disabilities (or lack thereof) together with housing characteristics of cohort members (e.g., whether they live in public housing for the elderly or in owned or rented housing in the community).

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