Unsteadiness Reported by Older Hospitalized Patients Predicts Functional Decline


  • An abstract of this study was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Geriatrics Society, Washington, DC, May 2002.

Address correspondence to Elizabeth Lindenberger, MD, Division of Geriatrics, San Francisco VA Medical Center, 4150 Clement St., Box 181G, San Francisco, CA 94121. E-mail: lindenbe@medicine.ucsf.edu


OBJECTIVES: To determine whether a simple question about steadiness at admission predicts in-hospital functional decline and whether unsteadiness at admission predicts failure of in-hospital functional recovery of patients who have declined immediately before hospitalization.

DESIGN: Prospective cohort study.

SETTING: One university hospital and one community teaching hospital.

PARTICIPANTS: One thousand five hundred fifty-seven hospitalized medical patients aged 70 and older.

MEASUREMENTS: On admission, patients reported their steadiness with walking and whether they could perform independently each of five basic activities of daily living (ADLs) at admission and 2 weeks before admission (baseline). For the primary analysis, the outcome was decline in ADL function between admission and discharge. For the secondary analysis, the outcome was in-hospital recovery to baseline ADL function in patients who experienced ADL decline in the 2 weeks before admission.

RESULTS: In the primary cohort (n = 1,557), 25% of patients were very unsteady at admission; 22% of very unsteady patients declined during hospitalization, compared with 17%, 18%, and 10% for slightly unsteady, slightly steady, and very steady patients, respectively (P for trend = .001). After adjusting for age; medical comorbidities; Acute Physiology, Age, and Chronic Health Evaluation II score; and admission ADL, unsteadiness remained significantly associated with ADL decline (odds for decline for very unsteady compared with very steady = 2.6, 95% confidence interval = 1.5–4.5). In the secondary analysis, predicting ADL recovery in patients who declined before hospitalization (n = 563), 46% of patients were very unsteady at admission. In this cohort, 44% of very unsteady patients failed to recover, compared with 35%, 36%, and 33% for each successively higher level of steadiness, respectively (P for trend = 0.06). After multivariate adjustment, greater unsteadiness independently predicted failure of recovery (P for trend = 0.02).

CONCLUSION: A simple question about steadiness identified patients at increased risk for in-hospital ADL decline and, in patients who lost ADL function immediately before admission, failure to recover.