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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1998 Jul;53(4):M307-12.

New walking dependence associated with hospitalization for acute medical illness: incidence and significance.

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  • 1Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center, William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, Madison, Wisconsin 53705, USA.



The ability to walk independently may become jeopardized during hospitalization. It is unknown which patients are at risk for decline in walking, or to what extent patients will recover. The purpose of this study was to determine the incidence of, risk factors for, and outcomes associated with new walking dependence after hospitalization.


Baseline characteristics and functional outcomes at hospital discharge and 3 months after discharge were measured for 1,181 community-dwelling adults aged 70 and over who were hospitalized for medical illness and who walked independently prior to hospitalization.


At discharge, 16.8% of patients were newly dependent in walking. Risk factors included age > 85 (odds ratio [OR] 2.7 vs age <75, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.5-4.9), functional impairment before hospitalization (OR 1.4 for each impairment, CI 1.1-1.7), Caucasian race (OR 1.9, CI 1.1-3.3), and use of a walker (OR 1.8, CI 1.04-3.2) or wheelchair (OR 3.2, CI 1.3-7.6) before admission. A cancer diagnosis (OR 2.3, CI 1.2-4.6) and more than four comorbid conditions (OR 1.9, CI 1.2-3.0) were also predictive. New walking dependence was associated with discharge to a nursing home (p = .0001) and higher postdischarge mortality (p < .001). Twenty-seven percent of patients who developed new walking dependence and survived 3 months continued to be dependent in walking.


New walking dependence occurs frequently with hospitalization, may be predicted by specific risk factors, and portends a poor prognosis. Strategies are needed to help at-risk patients maintain walking independence during and after hospitalization.

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