According to a new study, less frequent participation in social activity by older adults may be associated with a more rapid rate of motor function decline.
Motor function decline in older individuals is linked to negative health outcomes including, disability, dementia and death.
Although decline in motor function is becoming a major public health concern, "little is known about risk factors for motor function decline that could translate into potential public health or clinical interventions."
Aron S. Buchman, M.D., and colleagues at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, examined whether frequency of social activity in late-life was related to motor function decline in 906 older adults participating in the Rush Memory and Aging Project from 1997 to 2008, with an average follow-up of 4.9 years.
Researchers evaluated participants' motor function by measuring their grip and pinch strength and their ability to stand on one leg and then on their toes, to walk in line in a heel-to-toe manner, place pegs on a board in 30 seconds and tap index fingers for 10 seconds bilaterally.
Participants completed a health survey to assess their physical activities and used a five-point rating scale to measure frequency of social activity participation, with one indicating participation in a particular activity once a year or less; two, several times a year; three, several times a month; four, several times a week and five, every day or almost every day.
Demographic information, education, weight, height and disabilities were also recorded.
The researchers found that "a lower frequency of participation in social activity was associated with a more rapid rate of motor function decline," with each one-point decrease in a participant's social activity score associated with an approximate 33 percent more rapid rate of decline.
Additionally, a one-point decrease on the social activity scale was the same as being approximately five years older at baseline.
This amount of change is associated with more than a 40 percent increased risk of death and a 65 percent increased risk of developing disability.
"The association of social activity with the rate of global motor decline did not vary along demographic lines and was unchanged after controlling for potential confounders including late-life physical and cognitive activity, disability, global cognition depressive symptoms, body composition and chronic medical conditions," they authors said.
"These data raise the possibility that social engagement can slow motor function decline and possibly delay adverse health outcomes from such decline," the authors said.
The study has bee reported in the June 22 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.