Researchers Identify Risk Factors for Mobility Disabilities in Elderly

A recent study enumerated several risk factors that may contribute to long-term mobility disabilities in the elderly.

Researchers from the Yale School of Medicine followed 641 people aged 70 and older who were active drivers or able to walk a quarter of a mile unassisted from March 1998 through December 2009. At the start of the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, all of the participants could perform essential tasks such as bathing and dressing, according to a press release.

The participants were assessed every 18 months for changes in potential disability risk factors. Also, the patients’ mobility and exposure to potential risk factors, such as illness, injury or hospitalization, were assessed every month.

Patients who said they needed help to walk a quarter of a mile or had not driven a car in the past month were considered disabled, and a disability that lasted for 6 or more consecutive months was considered long-term.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that 318 (56%) and 269 (53.1%) participants developed a long-term disability in walking or driving, respectively. They determined that seven risk factors were independently associated with walking disability and eight were associated with driving disability. Included among these risks were having a chronic condition or cognitive impairment, low physical activity, slower gross motor coordination, poor lower-extremity function and hospitalization. The risk for a long-term disability increased greatly when multiple risk factors were present.

“Losing the ability to walk independently not only leads to a poorer quality of life, but prolonged disability leads to higher rates of illness, death, depression and social isolation,” Thomas Gill, MD, Humana Foundation Professor of Geriatric Medicine at Yale, stated in the release. “We’ve learned that targeted strategies are needed to prevent disability among older people living independently in the community.”

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