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Modifiable Risk Factors Predict Functional Decline Among Older Women: A Prospectively Validated Clinical Prediction Tool



To identify modifiable predictors of functional decline among community-residing older women and to derive and validate a clinical prediction tool for functional decline based only on modifiable predictors.


A prospective cohort study.


Four geographic areas of the United States.


Community-residing women older than age 65 recruited from population-based listings between 1986 and 1988 (n = 6632).


Modifiable predictors were considered to be those that a clinician seeing an older patient for the first time could reasonably expect to change over a 4-year period: benzodiazepine use, depression, low exercise level, low social functioning, body-mass index, poor visual acuity, low bone mineral density, slow gait, and weak grip. Known predictors of functional decline unlikely to be amenable to intervention included age, education, medical comorbidity, cognitive function, smoking history, and presence of previous spine fracture. All variables were measured at baseline; only modifiable predictors were candidates for the prediction tool. Functional decline was defined as loss of ability over the 4-year interval to perform one or more of five vigorous or eight basic daily activities.


Slow gait, short-acting benzodiazepine use, depression, low exercise level, and obesity were significant modifiable predictors of functional decline in both vigorous and basic activities. Weak grip predicted functional decline in vigorous activities, whereas long-acting benzodiazepine use and poor visual acuity predicted functional decline in basic activities. A prediction rule based on these eight modifiable predictors classified women in the derivation set into three risk groups for decline in vigorous activities (12%, 25%, and 39% risk) and two risk groups for decline in basic activities (2% and 10% risk). In the validation set, the probabilities of functional decline were nearly identical.


A substantial portion of the variation of functional decline can be attributed to risk factors amenable to intervention over the short term. Using eight modifiable predictors that can be identified in a single office visit, clinicians can identify older women at risk for functional decline.

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