Infectious Disease

Even in mild cases, many older adults are struggling with mobility issues in the wake of COVID-19

January 14, 2022

3 min read

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Middle-aged and elderly adults with confirmed, probable, or suspected COVID-19, even mild cases, experienced deterioration in mobility and functioning after infection, according to findings published in JAMA Network Open.

“The risk of mobility problems with COVID-19 was higher for older people, people with multiple chronic conditions, lower income, living in an apartment or condominium (compared to a house), less physical activity, and higher dietary risk.” marla K Beauchamp, doctor, an assistant professor at the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University in Canada, Healio said. “Although these factors alone did not explain the magnitude of the mobility issues we observed, they do give us a sense of who we may need to turn to for rehabilitation and prevention.”

Beauchamp M et al. JAMA network open. 2022;doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.46168.

Beauchamp and colleagues conducted a population-based study using data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. They extracted information from questionnaires about COVID-19 that were completed by 29,559 adults aged 45 to 85 between September 2020 and December 2020. The researchers compared the data collected during this period with pre-pandemic data from 2015 to 2018.

At the start of the study, 63.4% of the respondents were 65 years or older. Also, 52.45% were female and 93.51% were White. The majority of respondents (37.4%) had annual household incomes between CAD$50,000 and 100,000 (37.4%) or $100,000 or more (37.4%), while 25.2% reported incomes of less than $50,000 .

Marla K Beauchamp

In total, 2,748 people had confirmed, probable or suspected, COVID-19, according to Beauchamp and colleagues. Of these respondents, 94.2% were not hospitalized. Individuals with confirmed or probable COVID-19 were twice as likely to develop deterioration in the ability to engage in household activities (OR = 1.89; 95% CI, 1.11-3.22) and physical activity (OR = 1.91 ; 95% CI, 1.32-2.76). and standing up after sitting (OR = 2.33; 95% CI, 1.06-5.11) compared to adults without COVID-19, the researchers said. Similar results were found for people suspected of having COVID-19, the researchers observed.

In the study cohort, more than one in four respondents (25.2%) reported a decrease in the ability to exercise, 8.9% reported a decrease in the ability to move around the home, and 8.6% reported a decrease in the ability to exercise a deterioration in the ability to participate in household chores during the pandemic. Compared to data collected before the pandemic, 15.2% of respondents reported new difficulties getting up after sitting in a chair, 10.4% reported new difficulties going up and down a flight of stairs unaided and 11.1% reported new difficulty walking two three neighborhood blocks, according to Beauchamp and colleagues.

“Based on our findings and those of others, even individuals with initially mild COVID-19 illness may need rehabilitation to regain mobility,” Beauchamp said.

The results of this large population-based cohort study are important because they show an association between probable or confirmed COVID-19 disease and reduced ability to participate in household chores and physical activity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the health of many people around the world and much attention has been paid to the impact of the disease, including hospitalization rates and deaths from COVID-19. These results illustrate that COVID-19 disease has likely impacted many people’s quality of life, even if they did not require hospitalization, by reducing physical activity and the ability to care for themselves and function at home , contributed. Reduced physical functioning not only affects the person infected with COVID-19, but can impact family and friends who may now have additional responsibilities to support loved ones infected with COVID-19, reducing their ability to work and caring for others who depend on them diminishes .

Based on these results, physicians should assess the decline in physical functioning and ability to care for themselves in patients affected by COVID-19 who are homebound and provide access to supportive care for those who qualify such as physical therapy or housekeeping services.

Limitations of the study include including people with probable or suspected COVID-19 in addition to people with a confirmed diagnosis, limiting the ability to specifically link the results of this paper to a COVID-19 diagnosis. Additionally, as the study data was completed in December 2020, the impact of the delta and omicron COVID-19 variants on functional mobility cannot be assessed.

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Gina Piscitello, MD)

Gina Piscitello, MD

The results of this large population-based cohort study are important because they show an association between probable or confirmed COVID-19 disease and reduced ability to participate in household chores and physical activity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the health of many people around the world and much attention has been paid to the impact of the disease, including hospitalization rates and deaths from COVID-19. These results illustrate that COVID-19 disease has likely impacted many people’s quality of life, even if they did not require hospitalization, by reducing physical activity and the ability to care for themselves and function at home , contributed. Reduced physical functioning not only affects the person infected with COVID-19, but can impact family and friends who may now have additional responsibilities to support loved ones infected with COVID-19, reducing their ability to work and caring for others who depend on them diminishes .

Based on these results, physicians should assess the decline in physical functioning and ability to care for themselves in patients affected by COVID-19 who are homebound and provide access to supportive care for those who qualify such as physical therapy or housekeeping services.

Limitations of the study include including people with probable or suspected COVID-19 in addition to people with a confirmed diagnosis, limiting the ability to specifically link the results of this paper to a COVID-19 diagnosis. Additionally, as the study data was completed in December 2020, the impact of the delta and omicron COVID-19 variants on functional mobility cannot be assessed.

Gina Piscitello, MD

Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, Rush Medical College

Disclosure: Piscitello does not report any relevant financial information.

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