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OP27 Psychological factors associated with standing balance performance at age 69 in a british birth cohort study
  1. JM Blodgett,
  2. F Harkness,
  3. D Kuh,
  4. DHJ Davis,
  5. R Cooper
  1. MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, University College London, London, UK


Background Balance ability from midlife has been consistently shown to predict future health outcomes including mortality, morbidity and falls risk. Evidence has identified socioeconomic, behavioural and anthropometric contributors to balance, however there is little evidence on the role of psychological factors. We aimed to examine the associations between five psychological factors – stressful life events, symptoms of anxiety and depression, wellbeing, mastery and fear of falling – and standing balance performance at age 69.

Methods Up to 2113 participants from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development, a British cohort study followed since birth in 1946, were included in analyses. Stressful life events, including divorce and death of a loved one, between ages 36 and 60–64 were counted (max score: 32). Mastery (Pearlin Mastery Scale), symptoms of anxiety and depression (General Health Questionnaire-28), wellbeing (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale) and fear of falling (yes/no) were ascertained at age 68. Standing balance was assessed at age 69 using the one-legged stand test with eyes closed (max: 30 seconds). Linear regression models were used to examine associations between each psychological factor and log-transformed balance in sex and fully-adjusted models. Adjustments were made for height, body mass index, socioeconomic position, physical activity, smoking history, osteoarthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular events and presence of respiratory symptoms at age 68–69.

Results In sex-adjusted models, all five psychological factors were associated with balance performance; these associations were maintained after adjustment for covariates. In fully-adjusted models: for every additional stressful life event, individuals had a 2% (95% CI 0.3% to 3%) decrease in balance time; there was a 2% (1%–2%) increase in balance time for every 1 point increase in mastery; for every SD increase in depressive symptoms and wellbeing, there was a 5% (2%–8%) decrease and 5% (2%–9%) increase in balance time respectively; those who reported fear of falling had 17% (9%–25%) lower balance time when compared with those who had no fear.

Conclusion Experiencing a greater number of stressful life events, greater levels of anxiety and depression, lower wellbeing, lower mastery and fear of falling were all associated with poorer balance performance at age 69. These associations were robust to adjustment for a wide range of potential confounders. This suggests that psychological factors may be suitable targets for intervention aimed at reducing balance impairments in older adults. Future research should consider how these psychological factors interrelate and if they operate on similar pathways.

  • ageing
  • physical capability
  • psychological

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