Background. Performance-based measures of physical performance were examined for an older cohort of relatively high-functioning men and women. Relationships between baseline physical performance and sociodemographic and health status characteristics were also examined. Three-year pattern changes in performance are described, and sociodemographic and health status predictors of change are investigated. Methods. A cohort of relatively high- functioning men and women, aged 70-79, was identified in 1988 by subsampling from three community-based studies on the basis of physical and cognitive function. Baseline in-home assessments included tests of physical performance and measurement of sociodemographic characteristics and health status. A summary measure of physical performance was developed from tests of balance, gait, lower body strength and coordination, and manual dexterity. In-home assessments were repeated at follow-up in 1991. Results. Better physical performance at baseline was more common among males, Whites, those reporting higher income and education, and those with fewer chronic conditions. In linear regression models, declines in performance were predicted by older age, lower income, higher education, relative weight and blood pressure, lower peak expiratory flow, prevalent diabetes and incident health conditions and hospitalizations during follow-up. Improvements in performance were also observed; the only significant association was with race (i.e., being Black). Conclusions. Declines in physical performance within a high-functioning cohort are predictable from sociodemographic and health status characteristics. The patterns of both decline and improvement in performance observed in this cohort suggest that older age is not uniformly associated with declines, indicating the potential for effective interventions to promote more successful aging.
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