Ability to walk 1/4 mile predicts subsequent disability, mortality, and health care costs

J Gen Intern Med. 2011 Feb;26(2):130-5. doi: 10.1007/s11606-010-1543-2.


Background: Mobility, such as walking 1/4 mile, is a valuable but underutilized health indicator among older adults. For mobility to be successfully integrated into clinical practice and health policy, an easily assessed marker that predicts subsequent health outcomes is required.

Objective: To determine the association between mobility, defined as self-reported ability to walk 1/4 mile, and mortality, functional decline, and health care utilization and costs during the subsequent year.

Design: Analysis of longitudinal data from the 2003-2004 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, a nationally representative sample of Medicare beneficiaries.

Participants: Participants comprised 5895 community-dwelling adults aged 65 years or older enrolled in Medicare.

Main measures: Mobility (self-reported ability to walk 1/4 mile), mortality, incident difficulty with activities of daily living (ADLs), total annual health care costs, and hospitalization rates.

Key results: Among older adults, 28% reported difficulty and 17% inability to walk 1/4 mile at baseline. Compared to those without difficulty and adjusting for demographics, socioeconomic status, chronic conditions, and health behaviors, mortality was greater in those with difficulty [AOR (95% CI): 1.57 (1.10-2.24)] and inability [AOR (CI): 2.73 (1.79-4.15)]. New functional disability also occurred more frequently as self-reported ability to walk 1/4 mile declined (subsequent incident disability among those with no difficulty, difficulty, or inability to walk 1/4 mile at baseline was 11%, 29%, and 47% for instrumental ADLs, and 4%, 14%, and 23% for basic ADLs). Total annual health care costs were $2773 higher (95% CI $1443-4102) in persons with difficulty and $3919 higher (CI $1948-5890) in those who were unable. For each 100 persons, older adults reporting difficulty walking 1/4 mile at baseline experienced an additional 14 hospitalizations (95% CI 8-20), and those who were unable experienced an additional 22 hospitalizations (CI 14-30) during the follow-up period, compared to persons without walking difficulty.

Conclusions: Mobility disability, a simple self-report measure, is a powerful predictor of future health, function, and utilization independent of usual health and demographic indicators. Mobility disability may be used to target high-risk patients for care management and preventive interventions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology
  • Aged
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Disabled Persons* / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs / trends*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mobility Limitation*
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Walking / physiology*