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Aubert CE, Kabeto M, Kumar N, Wei MY. Multimorbidity and long-term disability and physical functioning decline in middle-aged and older Americans: an observational study. BMC geriatrics. 2022 Nov 28; 22(1):910.
BACKGROUND: Multimorbidity is highly prevalent and associated with several adverse health outcomes, including functional limitations. While maintaining physical functioning is relevant for all adults, identifying those with multimorbidity at risk for faster rates of physical functioning decline may help to target interventions to delay the onset and progression of disability. We quantified the association of multimorbidity with rates of long-term disability and objective physical functioning decline. METHODS: In the Health and Retirement Study, we computed the Multimorbidity-Weighted Index (MWI) by assigning previously validated weights (based on physical functioning) to each chronic condition. We used an adjusted negative binomial regression to assess the association of MWI with disability (measured by basic and instrumental activities of daily living [ADLs, IADLs]) over 16 years, and linear mixed effects models to assess the association of MWI with gait speed and grip strength over 8 years. RESULTS: Among 16,616 participants (mean age 67.3, SD 9.7 years; 57.8% women), each additional MWI point was associated with a 10% increase in incidence rate of disability (IRR: 1.10; 95%CI: 1.09, 1.10). In 2,748 participants with data on gait speed and grip strength, each additional MWI point was associated with a decline in gait speed of 0.004 m/s (95%CI: -0.006, -0.001). The association with grip strength was not statistically significant (-0.01 kg, 95%CI: -0.73, 0.04). The rate of decline increased with time for all outcomes, with a significant interaction between time and MWI for disability progression only. CONCLUSION: Multimorbidity, as weighted on physical functioning, was associated with long-term disability, including faster rates of disability progression, and decline in gait speed. Given the importance of maintaining physical functioning and preserving functional independence, MWI is a readily available tool that can help identify adults to target early on for interventions.