Social Activity in Older Adults May Prevent Disability

More socially active elderly are less likely to develop disabilities in basic activities

FRIDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- The more socially active older people are, the less likely they are to become disabled, according to a study published online Feb. 7 in The Journals of Gerontology: Series A.

Bryan D. James, Ph.D., of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and colleagues investigated the association of incident disability and social activity among community-dwelling older adults. A total of 954 participants (mean age of 82 years) without clinical dementia, who reported independence in the functional areas assessed, were followed up for an average of 5.1 years. The participants' social activity was evaluated at baseline. An annual evaluation of disability in basic activities of daily living, mobility, and instrumental activities of daily living was carried out. The researchers adjusted for confounders, including depression, vascular disease and risk factors, body mass index, social networks, and self-reported physical activity.

The researchers found that social activity was associated with a decreased risk of incident disability. Each additional unit of social activity was correlated with a 43 percent reduction in the risk of developing a disability in activities of daily living. More socially active individuals were also significantly less likely to develop a disability in mobility (hazard ratio [HR], 0.69) and in instrumental activities of daily living (HR, 0.71).

"This study suggests that more socially active older persons are less likely to become disabled. Future research is needed to determine whether interventions aimed at increasing late-life social activity can play a part in delaying or preventing disability," the authors write.

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