A study out of Yale University has found that illnesses and injuries that can restrict the activity of older adults or land them in the hospital are linked to worsening functional ability. It is reported in a recent issue on aging in the “Journal of the American Medical Association”.
What the new study provides is a better understanding of the complex process by which someone becomes disabled.
In older adults, disability in essential activities of daily living — such as bathing and dressing — is common and linked to a higher risk of death and institutionalization. But the news isn’t all bad: many older adults also recover from disabilities. There are now high rates of recovery — but how did intervening illnesses and injuries impact the transition to improving one’s functional ability?
On that note, researchers tracked 754 adults aged 70 and older through monthly phone interviews for more than a decade. They assessed disability and ascertained exposure to intervening illnesses and injuries. Physical frailty — slow walking speed — was assessed every 18 months for nine years. The team evaluated the relationship between two types of intervening events: 1) hospitalization and restricted activity; and 2) transitions between no disability, mild disability, severe disability and death.
The researchers found that, among the 637 participants who had at least one functional transition, 91% had at least one hospital admission and 94% had at least one month of restricted activity. Hospitalization was associated with disability for eight of the nine transitions.
Among the possible reasons for hospitalization or restricted activity, fall-related injury led to the highest likelihood of developing a new or worsening disability.
This is a very important topic, as the number of disabled older Americans could increase substantially in the coming years with the aging of the baby boom generation.
The importance of this study is that it identified what needs to be a major focus in keeping older adults functional, keeping them with a higher quality of life, and keeping them safer. That focus is to aggressively try to prevent and manage intervening illnesses and injuries. Because it is those that keep people disabled, and keep people from recovering.
Conversely, if you have a solid functional ability, it will help keep underlying illnesses at bay.