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Gait Speed As A Medical Measure Of Vitality

As a person ages, we notice that some seem frail early in life yet others continue as vital for decades. Is there a way to detect frailty onset or even potential lifespan? There may be with a simple gait test. New research suggests that “gait speed” can predict survival. The test is simple. Have the […]

As a person ages, we notice that some seem frail early in life yet others continue as vital for decades. Is there a way to detect frailty onset or even potential lifespan? There may be with a simple gait test.

New research suggests that “gait speed” can predict survival. The test is simple. Have the person walk a four meter distance starting from a standing still position. Measure the time with a stop watch. Speeds of greater than 1.0m/sec closely associates with healthier aging. Below 0.6m/sec correlates with poor health and less functional capability. A breakpoint of about 0.8m/sec separates individuals who will survive for less than or more than the median. Over 1m/sec suggests better than average survival and over 1.2m/sec suggests an even greater survival advantage. These are from a Jan 5, 2011 publication by Dr. Stephanie Studenski and colleagues in the Journal of the American Medical Association. http://bit.ly/xvoTQO

Fragility may seem to be just a subjective observation but, as I posted previously, there is a real science to frailty measurement. http://bit.ly/wsMq23

Those predicted to live another five to ten years or more might be given greater consideration for preventive measures that normally take years to achieve a benefit. On the other hand, those with high risk for a short life span might be considered further for what modifiable circumstances could be adjusted to the patient’s benefit.

The data for these analyses were from nine studies conducted from 1986 to 2000. Each study had over 400 older participants, each community dwelling, whose gait speed was recorded and then followed for survival for five plus years. The graphic will illustrate the findings.

[Follow this link http://bit.ly/zHU13Y ]

These data help to differentiate the old (based on age) from the geriatric (based on biology). In an accompanying editorial, Dr. M. Cesari points out that not only is it useful to make this differentiation in older individuals but in other groups as well. For example in oncology practices, it is well known that performance status predicts outcome. Restated, those with low performance scores should normally not be treated with aggressive chemotherapy (the exception is in certain well defined situations) because the side effects are likely to outweigh the possible benefits. Surgeons, likewise, need to know who might be likely to encounter an adverse outcome. Gait speed might prove a useful way to select out who should likely not have chemotherapy or who should likely not have elective major surgery. Cesari points out that gait speed is not just a measure of leg function. It probably is a marker of a generalized physiologic function that correlates with health status.

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Gait speed may become a marker to differentiate the chronologically old from the functionally geriatric. Check out your own rate.

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