Background: Lower limb mobility disabilities are well understood in older people, but the causes in middle age have attracted little attention.
Objectives: To estimate the prevalence of mobility disabilities among noninstitutionalized adults in England and to compare the disabling symptoms reported by middle-aged and older people.
Design: Cross-sectional data from the 2002 English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Mobility disability was identified by level of reported difficulty walking a quarter mile.
Participants: Eleven thousand two hundred sixteen respondents aged 50 years and older living in private households in 2002.
Results: The prevalence of difficulty walking a quarter mile increases sharply with age, but even in the middle-aged (50 to 64 years age-group) 18% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 16% to 19%) of men and 19% (95% CI: 17% to 20%) of women reported some degree of difficulty. Of the 16 main symptoms reported as causing mobility disability in middle age, 2 dominated: pain in the leg or the foot (43%; 95% CI: 40% to 46%) and shortness of breath/dyspnea (21%; 95% CI: 18% to 23%). Fatigue or tiredness, and stability problems were cited by only 5% and 6%, respectively. These proportions were slightly different from those in the 65 to 79-year age group: 40%, 23%, 6%, and 8%, respectively.
Conclusions: Mobility (walking) disabilities in the middle-aged are relatively common. The symptoms reported as causes in this age group differ little from those reported by older groups, and are dominated by lower limb pain and shortness of breath. More clinical attention paid to disabling symptoms may lead to disability reductions in later life.