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Getting around may be getting harder for those in middle age

April 6, 2010 |  3:01 pm

Middle-aged men and women are having a tougher time moving around, according to a new study that saw a boost in mobility-related problems among people 50 to 64 years old.

Gcf9fmke The study, published in the April issue of the journal Health Affairs, looked at mobility-related disability trends among those taking part in the 1997-2007 National Health Interview Survey, a nationally representative study. The participants were asked if they had difficulty with nine particular physical functions, if they had a health problem requiring the use of equipment such as a cane or wheelchair, and what health conditions might be responsible for their limitations. Overall, the number of people ages 50 to 64 who need help with personal care activities is less than 2%.

The number of people reporting difficulty with physical functions didn't change much, but difficulty with certain functions saw an uptick over the 11 years: stooping, bending and kneeling; standing for two hours; walking a quarter mile; and climbing 10 steps without resting. More than 40% of people surveyed said that due to a health problem they had trouble with at least one of nine physical functions, without using any equipment. The researchers, from the University of Michigan and the RAND Corporation, also saw an increase in people needing help with personal care endeavors such as getting in and out of bed or moving around in their homes.

From 2005 to 2007, the most common reasons for needing help were arthritis; rheumatism; back or neck problems; diabetes; and depression, anxiety or emotional problems. Those who reported these problems were more apt to say the disorders started at age 30 to 49. Obesity was tied for seventh place on the list, tied with heart problems, and there was no substantial increase over the study period. In the study the researchers noted that some of the participants may not have wanted to list obesity, and that many obese people are healthy. Still, they wrote, "our findings regarding arthritis or rheumatism, back or neck problems, other musculoskeletal conditions, and diabetes may be related to the growth in obesity."

"This is a disappointing trend with potentially far-reaching and long-term negative consequences," said Richard Suzman in a news release. Suzman, director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at the National Institute on Aging, which funded the study, added: "If people have such difficulties in middle age, how can we expect that this age group -- today's baby boomers -- will be able to take care of itself with advancing age? If it continues, this trend could have a significant effect on the need for long-term care in the future."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times