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Research Review

Older Adults Who Socialize Less May Experience Motor Decline

Among older adults, less frequent participation in social activity is associated with a more rapid rate of motor function decline, according to a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Motor function decline in older individuals is associated with negative health outcomes including, disability, dementia, and death. Although decline in motor function is becoming a major public health concern, “little is known about risk factors for motor function decline that could translate into potential public health or clinical interventions,” the authors wrote.
Researchers at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, examined whether frequency of social activity in late-life was related to motor function decline in 906 older adults participating in the Rush Memory and Aging Project from 1997 to 2008, with an average follow-up of 4.9 years. Researchers evaluated participants’ motor function and in addition, participants completed a health survey to assess their physical activities and used a five-point rating scale to measure frequency of social activity participation. Demographic information, education, weight, height, and disabilities were also recorded.
“A lower frequency of participation in social activity was associated with a more rapid rate of motor function decline,” with each one-point decrease in a participant’s social activity score associated with an approximate 33% more rapid rate of decline, the authors note. Additionally, a one-point decrease on the social activity scale was the same as being approximately five years older at baseline. This amount of change is associated with more than a 40% increased risk of death and a 65% increased risk of developing disability.
“The association of social activity with the rate of global motor decline did not vary along demographic lines and was unchanged after controlling for potential confounders including late-life physical and cognitive activity, disability, global cognition depressive symptoms, body composition, and chronic medical conditions,” they wrote.
“These data raise the possibility that social engagement can slow motor function decline and possibly delay adverse health outcomes from such decline. Further work is needed to ensure that this is a causal relationship,” the authors concluded.
— Source: American Medical Association