Background: Progressive disability develops with older age in association with underlying disease, comorbidity and frailty. Physical performance characteristics are important to improve the physical condition of older persons and therefore may be able to prevent or delay the onset of (progressive) disability. However lack of understanding of the physiology and etiology of functional decline leading to disability causes a problem in the development of effective preventive interventions. The aim of the present review is to determine which physical performance characteristics are determinants of disability in the older general population.
Methods: We searched systematically the electronic databases of PubMed (MEDLINE), CINAHL, Cochrane Library, Psychlit and Embase for cohort studies and randomized controlled trials assessing disability in the older general population. Outcomes of interest were handgrip strength, upper and lower extremity function, balance gait and physical activity. The searching strategy resulted in 22 studies included in the present systematic review.
Results: Although heterogeneity was present in the measurements of disability, consistent findings were shown for physical performance characteristics and disability. In general, a lower score of the physical performance characteristics was associated with a higher probability of (the development of) disability. The association for other aspects of gait (e.g. gait-step continuity, gait-step symmetry, path deviation and turning) and disability seems to be present, though the number of studies is limited.
Conclusion: In the present systematic review, associations were found for hand grip strength, upper and lower body strength, gait speed, physical activity and the probability of disability.
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