COVID-19 causes mobility, physical declines in older adults, study finds

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A new study suggests that older adults may have long-lasting declines in mobility after COVID-19 infection. File photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Many adults age 50 years and older sickened with COVID-19 experience declines in mobility and the ability to perform day-to-day physical activities up to eight months after infection, a study published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open found.

This is true even for those who do not suffer symptoms serious enough to require hospital treatment, the researchers said.

Among nearly 3,000 older adults in Canada who tested positive for COVID-19, one in four reported worsening ability to engage in physical activity up to eight months later, the data showed.

In addition, 9% indicated they had difficulty moving around in their homes, and 9% said they had problems performing routine housework after their infections, the researchers said.

Just over 15% reported “new difficulty in standing up after sitting in a chair,” while 10% said they had “new difficulty walking up and down a flight of stairs without assistance” after being sickened with the virus, according to the researchers.

About 11% said they had difficulty walking two to three neighborhood blocks, the data showed.

“COVID-19 in middle-aged and older people has a persisting impact on their physical function and mobility, even if their illness was mild,” study co-author Parminder Raina told UPI in an email.

“We need to develop rehabilitation strategies, not just for people who were hospitalized, but also for [those] who had mild-to-moderate COVID-related illness,” said Raina, a professor of health research methods, evidence and impact at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Previous studies have suggested that up to half of those infected with COVID-19 suffer from “long-haul” symptoms, or “long COVID,” for several months after their initial illness.

Persistent fatigue is among the most common of these “long COVID” symptoms and it, along with damage to the lungs, heart and brain caused by the virus, can impact physical health and mobility, according to earlier research.

For this study, Raina and his colleagues analyzed data on 51,339 Canadian adults age 50 years and older, of whom 2,748 were infected with COVID-19 between April and December 2020, and tracked their physical health for up to eight months.

Just under 42% of the participants were age 65 years and older and 94% of them did not require hospital treatment for the virus, the researchers said.

Compared with adults who were not infected, those with COVID-19 were up to 90% more likely to report problems with mobility and difficulty with normal day-to-day activities up to eight months later, the data showed.

“We don’t understand yet why this happens, [and] it is still unclear when and if people return to their original function and physical health,” Raina said.

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