Depressive Symptoms Linked to Mobility Limitations in Older African Americans

A recent study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has identified demographic and health-related characteristics connected with limited mobility in African Americans. The study was featured in a recent issue of the Journal of Gerontology.

According to a press release, researchers looked at a sample of 602 African Americans, including men and women between the ages of 48 and 92 years, who reported limitations in climbing a flight of stairs or walking several blocks. The researchers conducted logistic regression analysis to estimate the independent effect of each demographic and health-related characteristic on the odds of mobility limitation.

They discovered that African American women who reported major depressive symptoms had nearly three times the odds of mobility limitation than those without major depressive symptoms. They also found that among African Americans, co-morbid conditions were associated with mobility limitation. African Americans who reported two or more medical conditions had higher odds of mobility limitation than those with one or fewer medical conditions. African American women with lower incomes were most affected.

“The rapidly growing US population 65 and older will bring with it greater numbers of minorities and people with mobility challenges,” Roland Thorpe, PhD, MS, assistant scientist with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management, stated in the release. “Major depressive symptoms have not been previously identified as a factor of mobility difficulty, but these findings suggest that apathy may play a role in this relationship. Its possible participants could do the measured activities, such as walking or climbing stairs, but lacked the motivation to do so. Strategies to preserve mobility among African Americans must include efforts to reduce major depressive symptoms and proper health care to treat and control medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart trouble, arthritis and stroke.”

In a second study published in another issue of the Journal of Gerontology, Thorpe and colleagues examined how the relationship between race and mobility is affected by socioeconomic status indicators such as education and poverty level. Using data from the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study, the researchers examined black and white participants between the ages of 70 and 79 years who claimed to be able to walk a quarter-mile and climb 10 steps at a reasonable pace. The researchers found that based on walking speed, blacks had poorer mobility status compared to whites, which was not explained by education, poverty, reading level or income adequacy. Over 5 years, black men experienced greater mobility limitation than white men.

“Higher rates of mobility loss observed in older blacks relative to older whites appear to be a function of poorer initial mobility status and existing health conditions, particularly for women,” Thorpe stated.

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