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Keywords:

  • elderly;
  • gait velocity;
  • health disparities;
  • physical function

Objectives

To investigate whether there are racial differences in gait velocity in elderly adults.

Design

Cross-sectional analysis.

Setting

Bronx, New York.

Participants

Two hundred thirteen participants of the Einstein Aging Study (157 Caucasian, 56 African American), a longitudinal study of community-residing elderly adults recruited using Medicare and voter registration records.

Measurements

Demographic characteristics, medical history, Geriatric Depression Scale, Blessed Information–Memory–Concentration Test, Total Pain Index, gait velocity.

Results

Caucasians were older (median 79.9 vs 75.5, P = .002) and more educated (median 14 vs 12 years, P = .007) and had lower body mass index (mean 26.9 ± 4.3 vs 28.9 ± 6.4, P = .03). African Americans were more likely to be female (80.4% vs 59.9%, P = .006) and to have diabetes mellitus (28.6% vs 13.4%, P = .01). Pain levels were not significantly different between Caucasians and African Americans. African Americans had a significantly slower gait velocity (mean 90.2 ± 17.9 vs 99.1 ± 20.1 cm/s, P = .004). This difference persisted after adjusting for multiple covariates. Differences in common factors known to influence gait did not explain a 7.79-cm/s slower gait speed in African Americans than Caucasians.

Conclusion

Differences in gait velocity persist between African Americans and Caucasians despite adjusting for many confounders. Increases of just 10 cm/s are associated with lower mortality. Further studies are needed to evaluate whether there are modifiable risk factors that may explain this difference and whether an intervention could reduce the discrepancy between the groups.