Screening for balance and mobility impairment in elderly individuals living in residential care facilities

Phys Ther. 1995 Jun;75(6):462-9. doi: 10.1093/ptj/75.6.462.


Background and purpose: The rapid growth of the elderly population has resulted in a corresponding rise in the number of elderly individuals who experience disability during their lifetimes. The purpose of this study was to test the usefulness of four established clinical measures of balance, gait, and subjective perceptions of fear of falling as screening methods for referring community-dwelling elderly individuals living in residential care facilities for detailed physical therapy evaluation and possible intervention.

Subjects: The subjects were a convenience sample of 53 elderly individuals living in two residential care facilities for the elderly.

Methods: Subjects were tested on each of four clinical measures of balance and mobility. Their performance on these measures was compared with a physical therapist's brief evaluation of disability and appropriateness for more detailed evaluation. The usefulness of these tools as screening methods was determined by calculating sensitivity and specificity levels using the physical therapist's evaluation as a standard.

Results: The sensitivity and specificity levels of the four clinical measures in their application as screening tests for referral to physical therapy were as follows: Berg Balance Scale, 84% and 78%; balance subscale of the Tinetti Performance-Oriented Mobility Assessment, 68% and 78%; gait speed, 80% and 89%; and Tinetti Fall Efficacy Scale, 59% and 82%. The combination of two tests, Berg Balance Scale and gait speed, yielded the highest sensitivity of 91% and the highest specificity of 70% when a subject tested positive on at least one test.

Conclusion and discussion: These findings indicate the feasibility of developing screening methods for referring community-dwelling elderly individuals for a detailed physical therapy evaluation based on established clinical assessment measures, with a combination of tests measuring balance and gait demonstrating the most promising results.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Homes for the Aged
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Status Schedule
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Sampling Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity