Older Mexican-Americans who struggle with pain are 1.7 times more likely to become frail, compared to those without pain, according to a new study at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston. Frailty is a condition defined by weakness, exhaustion and slowness.
Chronic pain is a known risk factor for frailty among older adults, but research is lacking on the relationship between pain and frailty in older Hispanic American populations, the nation’s fastest growing segment of older adults.
In addition, older Mexican-American adults are particularly prone to risk factors linked to pain, such as diabetes, obesity and disability. They also are more likely to have poor access to medical care and have lower levels of health literacy.
“Older Mexican-Americans are an underserved population with disparities in healthcare access and delivery and health risks associated to their demographic group,” said National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) Director Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D. “This study identifies the need to effectively manage pain in Latino populations by culturally appropriate interventions.”
For the study, researchers looked at pain as a predictor of frailty in older Mexican American adults in a follow-up period of 18 years.
Study data was sourced from the Hispanic Established Populations for the Epidemiological Study of the Elderly (H-EPESE), an ongoing longitudinal study of 3,050 Mexican Americans ages 65 years and older and residing in five Southwestern states. All participants were non-frail at the start of the study.
When data collection began, participants were asked if they had experienced pain in the previous month. Since social and demographic factors, such as age, sex, marital status, literacy, mental health, disability and existing medical conditions may influence frailty, participants were also categorized along these variables.
Factors that led to a higher chance of becoming frail were older age, hip fracture, depressive symptoms and difficulty in performing activities of daily living. Participants with higher education levels, females and those with sounder mental state were less prone to developing frailty.
“The relationship between social determinants, diabetes, physical function, mobility, frailty and pain in older Mexican-Americans is complex and poorly understood. Early assessment and better pain management may prevent early onset of frailty in this group,” said Kenneth Ottenbacher, Ph.D., study principal investigator at UTMB – Galveston.
The study is published in the Journal of Pain.