There is a greater number of older people with multiple sclerosis than ever before, and the number is likely to continue growing. That combination, of old age with MS, puts people at risk of significantly reduced physical function than those without the disease.
This was a key finding of a study presented at last week’s Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC) 2016 Annual Meeting in National Harbor, Md.
The study, “Physical Functioning Among Older Adults with Multiple Sclerosis: Evidence Based on an Objective Outcome,” was presented June 3 during the conference’s “Rehabilitation Interventions” session.
Though MS typically does not reduce the lifespan of a patient, little focus has been spent on investigating the unique characteristics and needs of older and elderly patients with MS.
Poorer health in this group of patients is a fact, considering patient reports, but to get a clearer picture of the physical concerns, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign compared 20 older adults with MS to 20 control non-MS people of the same age.
Patients and controls were also matched according to sex, height and weight for the comparison.
The Short Physical Performance Battery, a proven tool for measuring lower-extremity function in older adults, was used to assess physical function in both groups. Measurements of balance, gait speed, and lower-extremity strength were then aggregated into a final score.
MS patients also went through a neurologic examination to get a measure of disability through the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score.
Results showed that MS patients scored on average 9.4 in the Short Physical Performance Battery, with individual patients ranging from 2 to 12. The control individuals scored on average 11.6, which translated to significant differences between the groups.
MS patients scored particularly worse on balance, gait speed, and lower-extremity strength, although all functional areas assessed by the battery indicated effects of the disease.
The team concluded that older patients with MS endure worse physical function than individuals of the same age without MS, and that health concerns among the MS population should be addressed through proper, more focused healthcare strategies.