New study looks for ways to delay disability in older adults

04/14/04

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – People over age 70 represent the fastest growing segment of the United States population. Learning how to prevent or delay age-related disability in this age group is the focus of a National Institute on Aging study being led by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

"Identifying ways to prevent disability is a major public health challenge," said Marco Pahor, M.D., the principal investigator, from Wake Forest Baptist. "About half of people over age 65 become so severely disabled that they need nursing home care."

In the first study to evaluate whether exercise can prevent disability in this population, Lifestyle Intervention and Independence for Elders (LIFE) will include 400 adults who are 70 to 85 years old. It will especially target those who are having difficulty doing daily activities such as walking, getting out of chairs or climbing stairs.

In addition to Winston-Salem, the LIFE study is being conducted in Dallas, Texas, Palo Alto, Calif., and Pittsburgh, Pa.

"Other studies have looked at pieces of the disability puzzle, such as seeing whether increasing muscle strength affects the ability to walk further," said Stephen B. Kritchevsky, Ph.D., director of the Wake Forest Baptist study site. "But we want to answer the larger question: Does a program of activity or change in lifestyle patterns prevent physical disability? Our goal is to find strategies that will help people remain independent longer so they can live in their own homes and participate in the day-to-day activities."

Study participants will be randomly assigned to one of two health programs. One group will attend classes and demonstrations promoting successful aging that will include topics like nutrition, communicating with health-care professionals and foot care. The other group will participate in moderate-intensity physical activity that includes aerobic, strength and flexibility training. Participants will receive free health screenings during the one-year study.

A critical factor in an older person's ability to function independently is mobility, or the ability to move without assistance. Older people who lose mobility are less likely to remain in their homes, have higher rates of hospitalization and death, and have a poorer quality of life.

Physical inactivity is one of the strongest predictors of physical disability among older people. While several studies suggest that exercise may prevent physical disability, solid evidence is lacking. The study is designed to provide a conclusive answer about whether physical exercise can prevent disability, as well as analyze the cost-effectiveness of the intervention. If the results are positive, researchers hope it will lead to a study to test the program in a larger group of older adults.

In addition to Kritchevsky, the local investigators are Steve Blair, M.S., P.E.D., at the Cooper Institute, Dallas, Texas; Abby King, Ph.D., at Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif; and Anne Newman, M.D., Ph.D., at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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