Original Article

Physical Function and Quality of Life in Older Adults: Sex Differences

Authors: Robert H. Wood, PHD, Rebecca Ellis Gardner, PHD, Kellye A. Ferachi, MS, Christina King, MS, Andrea Ermolao, MD, Katie E. Cherry, PHD, M Elaine Cress, PHD, S Michal Jazwinski, PHD for the Louisiana Healthy Aging Study


Objectives: Age is associated with deterioration in physical function (PF) and health-related quality of life (HRQL).

Methods: We examined sex differences in the association between PF and HRQL among older adults. One hundred eight adults (ages 60 to 98 years) completed the Continuous Scale-Physical Function Performance test (CS-PFP10), Functional Status Index (FSI), and SF-36. Effects of sex and fitness group on SF-36 scores were examined by using linear and nonparametric techniques. Regression techniques were used to model HRQL indexes with CS-PFP10 and FSI scores.

Results: Males had better PF as indicated by higher CS-PFP10 scores and lower FSI scores. CS-PFP scores were positively associated with several SF-36 scores in both males and females, but the strength of the association appeared greatest in males. The residual scores for the females were directly related to self-reported pain.

Conclusions: These data are consistent with reports indicating that females report symptoms more often than males and rely more on feelings of discomfort during physical activity in reporting HRQL as compared with males. Thus, researchers designing interventions to enhance health-related quality of life among older adults should be aware of these potential sex differences and aim to improve actual physical functioning in males and the discomforts associated with performance of physical activities in females.

Key Points

* Older males score higher on tests of physical function than age-matched females with similar health histories, perhaps due to greater muscle mass.

* The degree of association between physical function and health-related quality of life is markedly greater in older males compared with females of the same age and health history.

* Pain occurring during performance of activities of daily life accounts for a considerable amount of variance in the health-related quality of life scores of older females but less so in older males.

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