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J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010 Mar;58(3):539-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.02727.x. Epub 2010 Feb 22.

Biopsychosocial characteristics of community-dwelling older adults with limited ability to walk one-quarter of a mile.

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Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, 3471 Fifth Avenue, Suite 500, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.



To establish nationally representative estimates of the prevalence of self-reported difficulty and inability of older adults to walk one-quarter of a mile and to identify the characteristics independently associated with difficulty or inability to walk one-quarter of a mile.


Cross-sectional analysis of data from the 2003 Cost and Use Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey.




Nine thousand five hundred sixty-three community-dwelling Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older, representing an estimated total population of 34.2 million older adults.


Self-reported ability to walk one-quarter of a mile, sociodemographics, chronic conditions, body mass index, smoking, functional status.


In 2003, an estimated 9.5 million older Medicare beneficiaries had difficulty walking one-quarter of a mile, and 5.9 million were unable to do so. Of the 20.2 million older adults with no difficulty in activities of daily living (ADLs) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), an estimated 4.3 million (21%) had limited ability to walk one-quarter of a mile. Having difficulty or being unable to walk one-quarter of a mile was independently associated with older age, female sex, non-Hispanic ethnicity, lower educational level, Medicaid entitlement, most chronic medical conditions, current smoking, and being overweight or obese.


Almost half of older adults and 20% of those reporting no ADL or IADL limitations report limited ability to walk one-quarter of a mile. For functionally independent older adults, reported ability to walk one-quarter of a mile can identify vulnerable older adults with greater medical problems and fewer resources and may be a valuable clinical marker in planning their care. Future work is needed to determine the association between ability to walk one-quarter of a mile walk and subsequent functional decline and healthcare use.

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