Background: Older persons often complain of fatigue, but the functional consequences of this symptom are unclear. The aim of the present study was to evaluate fatigue and its association with measures of physical function and disability in a representative sample of the older population.
Methods: Cross-sectional data from a population-based sample of 1,055 Italian men and women aged 65 and older were analyzed. Fatigue was defined according to two questions evaluating whether participants felt that "everything was an effort" and/or they "could not get going" on three or more days in the past week. Objective measures of physical function were handgrip strength, the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), and 400-m walking speed. Disability was defined as the inability to complete the 400-m walk test and self-reported difficulty in activities of daily living (ADL) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADL).
Results: The prevalence of fatigue was higher in women (29%) than in men (15%). In age-adjusted analyses, fatigued men and women had weaker handgrip strength, lower SPPB score, slower walking speed, and higher mobility, ADL, and IADL disability than nonfatigued persons. Further adjustment for health behaviors, diseases, inflammatory markers, and thyroid function generally reduced the relationship between fatigue and functional outcomes, but fatigue remained significantly associated with SPPB score, walking speed, and mobility and IADL disability.
Conclusions: Older persons who report fatigue had significantly poorer functional status than those who did not report this symptom. The causal link between fatigue and these outcomes should be further investigated.