Background: This study examines the association between socioeconomic status and changes in physical function in younger- (aged 55-70 years) and older-old (aged 70-85 years) adults and seeks to determine the relative contribution of diseases, behavioral, and psychosocial factors in explaining this association.
Methods: Data were from 2,366 men and women, aged 55-85 years, participating in the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA). Two indicators of socioeconomic status were used: education and income. Physical function was measured by self-reported physical ability over nine years of follow-up.
Results: In older adults, low socioeconomic status was related to a poorer level of physical function during nine years of follow-up. In subjects who were between 55 and 70 years old, there was an additional significant socioeconomic-differential decline in physical function, while socioeconomic differentials did not further widen in subjects 70 years and older. Behavioral factors, mainly BMI and physical activity, largely explained the socioeconomic differences in physical function in the youngest age group, while psychosocial factors reduced socioeconomic status differences most in the oldest age group.
Conclusion: The findings indicate age-specificity of both the pattern of socioeconomic status differences in function in older persons and the mechanisms underlying these associations.