Physical ability better than chronic disease at predicting elderly death

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How well older adults get out of bed on their own and balance a checkbook is a more accurate predictor of their likelihood of dying within five years than their chronic disease diagnosis, a new study finds.

Researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center found that among participants aged 80 and older, functional limitation proved to be the stronger predictor of five-year mortality than chronic disease. For younger participants--aged 50 to 59--chronic disease conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes were significantly stronger predictors of mortality than functional measures. As participants aged, the predictive power of chronic disease declined faster than that of physical ability.

For the study, researchers examined the health status reported in 1998 by 19,430 participants in the National Institute on Aging's Health and Retirement Study, an ongoing national prospective study of health, income, and wealth sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. The mortality study appears in the July 2008 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.