ObjectivesTo describe women who attribute new disability to old age and to identify demographic, medical, behavioral, and psychosocial characteristics that correlate with attributing new disability to old age.
DesignProspective cohort study with 4-year follow-up.
SettingFour geographic regions of the United States.
Participants9704 women aged > or = 67 years participating in the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures. Of these, 657 who reported no disability at baseline but at follow-up reported difficulty carrying out 1 or more of 13 functional activities were eligible for our analysis.
MeasurementsAll women reporting difficulty in any functional activity at follow-up were asked "What is the main condition that causes you to have difficulty or prevents you from (doing the activity)?" and were shown a card listing 14 medical conditions as well as the option "old age," from which they could choose only one response. Women attributing difficulty or inability in 1 or more functional activities to old age were classified as attributing new disability to old age. We examined the relationship between attributing new disability to old age and the following characteristics measured at baseline: age, level of education, medical comorbidity, cognitive function, body mass index (BMI), gait speed, grip strength, visual acuity, physical activity level, smoking status, social network level, and depressed mood.
ResultsOverall, 13.5% of women attributed new disability to old age. Age was a strong independent correlate of attributing new disability to old age: compared with women age 67 to 69, the odds of attributing new disability to old age for women age 70 to 79 was 3.6 times as large (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.6-8.3), and for women age 80 or over was 5.5 times as large (95% CI = 2.1-14.7). The only other characteristic that remained an independent correlate of attributing new disability to old age was grip strength; for each decile decrease in grip strength, a woman's odds of attributing new disability to old age increased by 9% (odds ratio [OR] = 1.09, 95% CI = 1.01-1.19).
ConclusionsDespite great advances in geriatric medicine, old age is still perceived as a causal agent in functional decline, especially among our oldest patients. Further study is needed to determine whether, how often, and under what circumstances older adults who attribute new disability to old age have medical conditions amenable to interventions that could preserve their functioning and improve their quality of life.