Fit seniors better able to care for themselves

Active, physically fit seniors are less frail, better able to care for themselves and live independently longer than those with a sedentary lifestyle, according to UBC Okangan research findings.

The Healthy Exercise and Aging Lab (HEAL) Group at the university’s  Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention has released a study demonstrating a link between frailty and loss of functional independence in seniors.

Upwards of 90 per cent of older Canadians live with chronic disease conditions, more than 40 per cent report a level of disability and more than 50 per cent of older adults exhibit preliminary signs of frailty, according to Health Canada.

However, while disability and illness are part of the aging process, they are not directly responsible for making seniors frail and unable to complete daily living tasks, the UBC research concludes.

“What is overlooked is the contribution that physical fitness has on functional dependence,” said researcher Jennifer Jakobi, an assistant professor with UBC’s faculty of Health and Social Development.

“It is the loss of physical fitness which makes simple daily tasks, like rising from a chair, house-cleaning chores and climbing stairs almost impossible to do without becoming overly winded and fatigued.

“Evidence shows that fit seniors make fewer demands on health care systems and require less support than those who are frail.”

The HEAL research group used both laboratory and field-based performance measures to better understand and accurately map the fitness factors of independent aging.

In a related finding, the research determined that there are sex-related differences between older men and women, which may explain why women become frail earlier than men.

The study focused on the onset of Parkinson’s disease in seniors, indicating that women are 10 times more likely to become frail than men of the same age when both genders have Parkinson’s.

“Earlier diagnosis and treatment intervention such as exercise will reduce the impact of age-associated functional decline experienced by older men and women,” said HEAL researcher Gareth Jones, an assistant professor with UBC’s faculty of Health and Social Development.

Ultimately, these tools may be used by clinicians in the future to diagnose frailty, or PD stages, in both men and women.


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