The risk of becoming disabled with age increases with factors like having a chronic condition, cognitive impairment, low physical activity, slower overall motor coordination, poor limb function, and being hospitalized, researchers said Monday.
Women are also more likely than men to become disabled in their elderly years, Yale researchers said in a statement.
Researchers found that exposure to potential causes of disability, such as illnesses or injuries that lead to hospitalization and restricted activity increased the risk of developing long term disability in walking or driving by 600 percent.
Many people lose the ability to walk short distances or drive a car, as they age, and can lead to difficulty regaining independence which will ultimately lead to a poorer quality of life, researchers said.
"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," said Thomas Gill, the Humana Foundation Professor of Geriatric Medicine and professor of medicine, epidemiology, and public health at Yale School of Medicine.
Gill and his team based their study on 12 years of data on 641 people aged 70 or older who could walk a quarter of a mile alone and were active drivers at the start of the study. Researchers said that all participants could perform essential daily activities like bathing and dressing.
The researchers assessed participants’ mobility for driving and walking each month. Those who reported that they needed assistance to walk a quarter mile were considered walking disabled, and those who said they had not driven a car in the past month were considered driving disabled.
"We've learned that targeted strategies are needed to prevent disability among older people living independently in the community," said Gill.
The study findings were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday.