Background. A short battery of physical performance tests was used to assess lower extremity function in more than 5,000 persons age 71 years and older in three communities. Methods. Balance, gait, strength, and endurance were evaluated by examining ability to stand with the feet together in the side-by-side, semi-tandem, and tandem positions, time to walk 8 feet, and time to rise from a chair and return to the seated position 5 times. Results. A wide distribution of performance was observed for each test. Each test and a summary performance scale, created by summing categorical rankings of performance on each test, were strongly associated with self-report of disability. Both self-report items and performance tests were independent predictors of short-term mortality and nursing home admission in multivariate analyses. However, evidence is presented that the performance tests provide information not available from self-report items. Of particular importance is the finding that in those at the high end of the functional spectrum, who reported almost no disability, the performance test scores distinguished a gradient of risk for mortality and nursing home admission. Additionally, within subgroups with identical self-report profiles, there were systematic differences in physical performance related to age and sex. Conclusion. This study provides evidence that performance measures can validly characterize older persons across a broad spectrum of lower extremity function. Performance and self-report measures may complement each other in providing useful information about functional status.
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