Intervene earlier to address health deficits in adults

By Bianca Nogrady
Health deficits that contribute to functional declines in the elderly are already present in individuals as young as 40 years, Australian researchers say.

Writing in BMC Geriatrics, researchers presented the out­ comes of a community-based study of 561 individuals aged 40 to 75 years (mean age of 60 years). The study involved online surveys assessing sleep quality, distress and physical activity; measurement of phy­siologic and anthropometric parameters; and objective test­ing of functions such as mobility, cognition, grip strength, dexterity and hearing.

Overall, every one of the participants had at least one health deficit, and the median number of deficits was five.

Nearly two­-thirds of partici­pants were overweight or obese, 53.1% exceeded the recommen­ded waist-­to-hip ratio, and 52.9% did not meet recommen­ded physical activity thresholds.

The study also found that about one­-third of participants had hearing deficits or deficits in cognition and memory, 25.3% had mobility deficits and 22.6% had deficits in foot sensation using monofilament testing.

Gender and age played a sig­nificant role in the frequency of some health deficits. Men performed worse overall, and in the areas of hearing, BMI, waist-­to-­hip ratio and foot sensation, whereas women fared worse than men for physical activity, mobility and waist circumference.

Older participants were more likely to experience hearing deficits, decreased mobility, higher BMI, poor oximetry, lower waist-­to­-hip ratio and reduced foot sensation.

Lead author Professor Sue Gordon, Chair of Restorative Care at the Flinders University College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Adelaide, said the study aimed to address a lack of knowledge about health deficits in younger adults.

‘We hear an awful lot about frailty and poor health in the older age group – usually the 65 plus age group – but it’s not a sudden decline, it doesn’t happen overnight,’ she told Medicine Today.

Professor Gordon said most of the health deficits seen in the study could be addressed using existing interventions, and some of the study participants had made changes to improve their health deficits after taking part and receiving a report on their health.

She noted that our health system did a wonderful job once disease was established, but we were missing an important opportunity to intervene earlier before chronic diseases were established.
BMC Geriatr 2019; 19: 148;