Deteriorating mobility and balance in older adults predicts risk of death

Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 5:02pm

Observation of mobility and balance in older adults admitted to hospital can help physicians understand which patients have a higher risk of dying, according to a new study to be published in the December 1, 2011 issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“Our study suggests that older people whose mobility and balance deteriorated in the first 48 hours after admission had a much greater risk of dying within 30 days in comparison to people whose mobility and balance stayed the same or improved,” says study author Kenneth Rockwood, staff internist and geriatrician at Capital Health and professor of Geriatric Medicine at  Dalhousie University.

The study included 409 people, 65 years and older, who were admitted to the Halifax Infirmary, QEII Health Sciences Centre, Nova Scotia. It revealed that 71 per cent of patients whose mobility and balance worsened within 48 hours of admission died within 30 days. In contrast, only 4 per cent of those whose mobility and balance remained stable or improved died within the same time frame. Patients who were discharged and returned home had improved mobility and balance, patients discharged to nursing homes had slower (or no) improvement.

Dr. Rockwood and his team hope the study’s results will be used to increase observation and tracking in older adults admitted to hospital. “Our results confirm what good clinicians know, but what often is not followed systematically in hospitals, which often focus more on laboratory tests or x-rays”, said Dr. Rockwood.

The study was funded by a grant from the Fountain Innovation Fund of the QEII Health Sciences Foundation, with support from the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation.

Dr. Rockwood and his research group have a longstanding interest in clinical and epidemiological aspects of frailty, dementia and delirium. He has focused his investigations on frail older adults often using mathematics to understand the complexity of frailty.