The increase of chronic conditions or cognitive impairment, low physical activity, slower gross motor coordination, poor lower-extremity function, and hospitalization also increases the likelihood of disability in older adults, Yale researchers say. The data reportedly yields from a recent study conducted by the Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn. The study was led by Thomas Gill, MD, the Humana Foundation professor of geriatrics medicine, medicine, epidemiology, and public health.

Researchers report that the study’s findings are based upon 12 years of data taken from patient observations and assessments conducted to measure changes in potential disability risk factors every 18 months from the years 1998 to 2008.  Researchers add that they also assessed the patients’ mobility each month.

Gill explains the potential implications of mobility loss and disability in older adults, “Losing the ability to walk independently not only leads to a poorer overall quality of life but prolonged disability leads to higher rates of illness, death, depression, and social isolation.” 

At the beginning of study, researchers reportedly assessed 641 patients aged 70 years or older who could walk a quarter mile unassisted or were active drivers. A news release adds that patients were also able to perform essential activities of daily living. Researchers say patients who required assistance to walk a quarter mile were considered walking disabled. Patients who had not driven a car during the past month were considered driving disabled. The research team also reports that patients’ exposure to potential causes of disability, including illness or injuries leading to hospitalization and restricted activity, were monitored on a monthly basis. 

The results suggest multiple risk factors paired with subsequent illness and injury leading to hospitalization and restricted activity are linked with a greater likelihood of developing long-term walking and driving disability. Researchers add that a disability was classified as long-term if it persisted for at least 6 months.

Gill says the results indicate that targeted strategies are needed to prevent disability among older adults living independently in the community.

The study appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Source: Yale School of Medicine