Nurse helping woman walk with walker

Older adults with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 are nearly two-fold more likely to experience worsening mobility and physical function than their peers who haven’t had the disease, according to a new study.

Investigators examined outcomes among more than 24,000 older and middle-aged adults in Canada with confirmed, probable or suspected COVID. The study began in April 2020 and participants completed exit questionnaires in November and December of the same year. Most study participants had mild to moderate disease and were not hospitalized. 

More than 25% of participants reported significantly worsening ability to engage in physical activities, 9% were less able to move around in their home and 9% said that they were less able to perform housework. 

When compared to a pre-pandemic cohort from the same database, 15% reported new difficulty in standing up after sitting in a chair, 10% said that they had new difficulty walking up and down a flight of stairs without assistance, and 11% had new difficulty walking two to three neighborhood blocks. What’s more, having three or more chronic conditions was associated with a decline in mobility and/or functioning. Socioeconomic conditions also played a role in functional decline.

The results suggest that older individuals who have had mild to moderate COVID-19 should be prioritized for rehabilitation interventions, wrote Parminder Raina, Ph.D., of the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada. 

“Taken together with previous work, our results suggest a need for approaches to effectively restore functional mobility to predisease levels after COVID-19,” Raina and colleagues said. “It is recommended that approaches that promote gradual activity and enhance social, cultural, and financial support may help with managing post–COVID-19 conditions.”

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.