Physical Functional Assessment in Older Adults


The evaluation of the physical domain represents a critical part of the assessment of the older person, both in the clinical as well as the research setting. To measure physical function, clinicians and researchers have traditionally relied on instruments focusing on the capacity of the individual to accomplish specific functional tasks (e.g., the Activities of Daily Living [ADL] or the Instrumental ADL scales). However, a growing number of physical performance and muscle strength tests has been developed in parallel over the past three decades. These measures are specifically designed to: 1) provide objective results (not surprisingly, they are frequently timed tests) taken in standardized conditions, whereas the traditional physical function scales are generally self- or proxy-reported measures; 2) be more sensitive to changes; 3) capture the real biology of the function through the assessment of standardized tasks mirroring specific functional subdomains; and 4) mirror the quality of specific mechanisms underlying more complex and multidomain functions. Among the most commonly used instruments, the usual gait speed test, the Short Physical Performance Battery, the handgrip strength, the Timed Up-and-Go test, the 6-minute walk test, and the 400-meter walk test are widely adopted by clinicians and researchers. The clinical and research importance of all these instruments has been demonstrated by their predictive capacity for negative health-related outcomes (i.e., hospitalization, falls, institutionalization, disability, mortality). Moreover, they have shown to be associated with subclinical and clinical conditions that are also not directly related to the physical domain (e.g., inflammation, oxidative stress, overall mortality). For this reason, they have been repeatedly indicated as markers of wellbeing linked to the burden of multiple chronic conditions rather than mere parameters of mobility or strength. In this work protocols of the main tests for the objective assessment of physical function in older adults are presented.

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Correspondence to Enrica Patrizio.

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Patrizio, E., Calvani, R., Marzetti, E. et al. Physical Functional Assessment in Older Adults. J Frailty Aging 10, 141–149 (2021).

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Key words

  • Physical function
  • physical performance
  • gait speed
  • muscular strength
  • comprehensive geriatric assessment
  • older adults