According to a recent study published in the June 22, 2009 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine , less frequent participation in social activity among older adults is associated with a more rapid rate of motor function decline.

Although the loss of motor function is a common consequence of aging, with older persons displaying a wide spectrum of loss of motor abilities ranging from mild decreased muscle strength and bulk with reduced speed and dexterity to overt motor impairment with concomitant disability, little is known about the factors that predict motor decline. The objective of the study was to test the hypothesis that late-life social activity is related to the rate of change in motor function in old age.

Researchers examined 906 older adults from 1997 to 2008. Participants’ grip and pinch strength was evaluated, as well as 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 also completed a health and social activity survey.

Test results demonstrated that a lower frequency of participation in social activity was associated with a more rapid rate of motor function decline. Each 1-point decrease in social activity on the test results was associated with approximately a 33% more rapid rate of decline in motor function. Also, each 1-point decrease in the social activity score was the same as being approximately 5 years older. Furthermore, this amount of motor decline per year was associated with a more than 40% increased risk of death and a 65% increased risk of 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 late-life physical and cognitive activity, disability, global cognition depressive symptoms, body composition, and chronic medical conditions.