Background: A short battery of physical performance tests was used to assess lower extremity function in more than 5,000 persons age 71 years and older in three communities.
Methods: Balance, gait, strength, and endurance were evaluated by examining ability to stand with the feet together in the side-by-side, semi-tandem, and tandem positions, time to walk 8 feet, and time to rise from a chair and return to the seated position 5 times.
Results: A wide distribution of performance was observed for each test. Each test and a summary performance scale, created by summing categorical rankings of performance on each test, were strongly associated with self-report of disability. Both self-report items and performance tests were independent predictors of short-term mortality and nursing home admission in multivariate analyses. However, evidence is presented that the performance tests provide information not available from self-report items. Of particular importance is the finding that in those at the high end of the functional spectrum, who reported almost no disability, the performance test scores distinguished a gradient of risk for mortality and nursing home admission. Additionally, within subgroups with identical self-report profiles, there were systematic differences in physical performance related to age and sex.
Conclusion: This study provides evidence that performance measures can validly characterize older persons across a broad spectrum of lower extremity function. Performance and self-report measures may complement each other in providing useful information about functional status.