Objective: To study postural balance in relation to self-reported functional ability (mobility and ADL) and general physical activity in elderly men and women living in three different Nordic environments.
Participants: A random sample of 448 men and 556 women from among the 75-year-old residents in Glostrup, Denmark, and Göteborg, Sweden, and all the residents of relevant age (127 men and 261 women) in Jyväskylä, Finland.
Measurements: Assessment of postural balance with eyes open and closed using a piezoelectric force platform. A structured interview on self-reported functional ability and physical activity. An in-laboratory medical examination.
Results: In spite of some differences in balance between the groups studied (better results in women compared with men and, to some extent, better results in the participants from Denmark and Finland than in those from Sweden), the performance in the balance tests was similarly associated with functional ability within all groups. The subjects reporting no need of help in performing the ADL and mobility functions performed significantly better in the balance tests. These differences were seen more clearly in the control of anteroposterior movement of center of forces than in the mediolateral direction. The performance in the balance tests was also significantly better among the subjects reporting a higher level of general physical activity than in their less active counterparts. Physical activity and than in their less active counterparts. Physical activity and certain long standing illnesses modified significantly the relationship between postural balance and ADL-performance. When these factors were analyzed simultaneously, the role of balance as a predictor of ADL-performance largely disappeared.
Conclusions: The results suggest that good balance is one of the prerequisites of performance without difficulty in mobility and ADL functions. Physical exercise may help to maintain balancing abilities in old age; good balance, in turn, may also enable a physically active way of life. The associations of balance with functional ability and physical activity were independent of sex and locality. The results also support the validity of static stabilometry as a tool for evaluating threats to functional limitations in older subjects.