Introduction: The use of a simple, safe, and easy to perform assessment tool, like gait speed, to evaluate vulnerability to adverse outcomes in community-dwelling older people is appealing, but its predictive capacity is still questioned. The present manuscript summarises the conclusions of an expert panel in the domain of physical performance measures and frailty in older people, who reviewed and discussed the existing literature in a 2-day meeting held in Toulouse, France on March 12-13, 2009. The aim of the IANA Task Force was to state if, in the light of actual scientific evidence, gait speed assessed at usual pace had the capacity to identify community-dwelling older people at risk of adverse outcomes, and if gait speed could be used as a single-item tool instead of more comprehensive but more time-consuming assessment instruments.
Methods: A systematic review of literature was performed prior to the meeting (Medline search and additional pearling of reference lists and key-articles supplied by Task Force members). Manuscripts were retained for the present revision only when a high level of evidence was present following 4 pre-selected criteria: a) gait speed, at usual pace, had to be specifically assessed as a single-item tool, b) gait speed should be measured over a short distance, c) at baseline, participants had to be autonomous, community-dwelling older people, and d) the evaluation of onset of adverse outcomes (i.e. disability, cognitive impairment, institutionalisation, falls, and/or mortality) had to be assessed longitudinally over time. Based on the prior criteria, a final selection of 27 articles was used for the present manuscript.
Results: Gait speed at usual pace was found to be a consistent risk factor for disability, cognitive impairment, institutionalisation, falls, and/or mortality. In predicting these adverse outcomes over time, gait speed was at least as sensible as composite tools.
Conclusions: Although more specific surveys needs to be performed, there is sufficient evidence to state that gait speed identifies autonomous community-dwelling older people at risk of adverse outcomes and can be used as a single-item assessment tool. The assessment at usual pace over 4 meters was the most often used method in literature and might represent a quick, safe, inexpensive and highly reliable instrument to be implemented.