Are we measuring the right function outcomes for older adults in reviews by the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Group?

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2021 Jun;51(3):523-529. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2021.04.001. Epub 2021 Apr 3.


Background: Musculoskeletal conditions are the leading cause of years lived with disability for older adults. Limitations in functional ability affect healthy aging for aging populations worldwide. Thus, it is important to assess effects of interventions on the multiple dimensions of function for older adults.

Objectives: To assess: (1) which domains of function are assessed in reviews published by the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Group inclusive of older adults, and (2) the extent to which these reviews evaluate effects and/or applicability of findings for older adults.

Methods: We included all reviews published by the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Review Group after 2015 including participants over the age of 50 (n = 52). We extracted data on how the activities and participation domains of the International Classification of Functioning (ICF) were measured. We assessed the extent to which reviews included methods to evaluate effects across age, according to the framework in the Cochrane Handbook chapter on equity and specific populations.

Results: The median age of participants across reviews was 54 years (range 16-94). ICF domains assessed in reviews, in descending order of frequency, were: domestic life (90%), mobility (89%), self-care (87%), interpersonal interactions and relationships (65%), community, social, and civic life (64%), major life areas (31%), communication (2%), general tasks and demands (0%) and learning and applying knowledge (0%). In evaluating effects across age, the age of participants was described by 73% of reviews and 54% mentioned age in the description of the condition, 21% planned subgroup analysis by age and none were able to conduct this analysis. Only 17% described applicability of results to older people.

Conclusions: Reviews published by the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Group inclusive of older adults assess most domains of functional ability with the exception of communication, general tasks and knowledge domains. None of these reviews were able to conduct a subgroup analysis across age, indicating a need to improve the consideration of age in both Cochrane reviews as well as in primary studies.

Keywords: Rheumatology; Systematic reviews, Aging, Function, Core outcome sets, Musculoskeletal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Care*
  • Young Adult