The effect of family situation on mobility at old age

Gabriele Doblhammer-Reiter, Universität Rostock
Steffen Peters, Rostock Center for the Study of Demographic Change
Anna-Karin Welmer, Aging Research Center, Stockholm

Family situation influences health among the elderly. An important precondition of health is mobility which is related to fitness and social participation. Using an objective measure of mobility, i.e. walking speed, we explored possible selection and causal factors that may link family situation to health. We used data from the Swedish National study on Aging and Care in Kungsholmen (SNAC-K). This study included 2,097 persons aged 60 years and older, who were free from severe walking impairment at baseline. The participants were assessed at baseline 2001-4, and every 3- to 6-years thereafter. Walking speed was assessed when participants walked at their usual pace. Information on family situation was assessed through a questionnaire. Data was analyzed using GEE-regressions with a binary outcome variable and a logistic link function. In the “Level Model” we predicted the walking speed at the follow-ups by the characteristics of the previous wave; in the “Change Model” we explored the change in walking speed between two waves using the characteristics from the first of the two waves as predictors. Regarding the level of walking speed, respondents with children and living in a partnership had a lower risk of mobility limitation. The association was attenuated and no longer significant when including lifestyle in the model. Participants with children but without a partner had a lower risk of mobility limitation; however, their lower risk cannot be explained by other characteristics. Regarding the change in walking speed, the childless in partnership experienced the most dramatic decline. Family situation significantly predicts walking speed. In addition to selection forces, this relationship may be partly due to protective life style factors of those living in a partnership and having children. It may, however, be also caused by detrimental factors of a partnership such as less self-dependency.

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Presented in Session 115: Families, health and well-being