Predictors of Functional Change: A Longitudinal Study of Nondemented People Aged 65 and Older


  • The research on which this article is based was performed pursuant to Contracts UO1AG06781 and P50AG05136 with the National Institute on Aging.

  • This report was presented in poster form at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 8, 2001.

Address correspondence to Professor Gerald van Belle, Department of Biostatistics and Environmental Health, Box 354691, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195. E-mail:


OBJECTIVES: To identify factors associated with functional change in an older population and investigate interactions among selected potential risk factors.

DESIGN: A population-based prospective cohort study.

SETTING: A random sample was selected from the Group Health Cooperative members in the Seattle area from 1994 to 1996 and followed biennially.

PARTICIPANTS: Two thousand five hundred eighty-one people aged 65 and older, cognitively intact at baseline.

MEASUREMENTS: Functional status was measured by activities of daily living, instrumental activities of daily living, and performance-based physical function testing.

RESULTS: The cohort status at the time of these analyses was: deceased, 391; withdrawn, 179; dementia, 152; and on study, 1,873. The mean follow-up time was 3.4 years. Using linear regressions with Generalized Estimating Equation, selected medical conditions (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease (CVD), osteoporosis, arthritis, and cancer), low cognitive function, depression, and smoking were associated with worse functional outcomes. Exercise and moderate alcohol use were associated with better functional outcomes. Over the follow-up period, coronary heart disease, CVD, and depression were associated with increased rates of functional decline. Exercise and moderate alcohol consumption were associated with decreased rates of functional decline. Significant interactions were observed between exercise and coronary heart disease, moderate alcohol use and CVD, and cognition and CVD.

CONCLUSIONS: Our study has identified not only risk factors associated with functional decline but also the interactions among these factors. These observations, along with other published research, add to the growing understanding of the underlying process of functional change and could provide a basis to design effective strategies to delay functional decline.