Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 17, Issue 10, pp 766–773

Disabling symptoms

What do older women report?
  • Suzanne G. Leveille
  • Linda Fried
  • Jack M. Guralnik
Original Articles

DOI: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.2002.20229.x

Cite this article as:
Leveille, S.G., Fried, L. & Guralnik, J.M. J GEN INTERN MED (2002) 17: 766. doi:10.1046/j.1525-1497.2002.20229.x


OBJECTIVE: To answer the question, “What do older disabled women report as the main symptoms causing their disability?”

DESIGN: Cross-sectional study of 876 women aged 65 and older who participated in the second interview of the Women’s Health and Aging Study, a longitudinal study of community-living women, representing the one third of older women with at least mild to moderate disability.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Women were asked to identify the symptom and the condition that was the main cause of disability in basic and instrumental activities of daily living, and lower extremity mobility. Musculoskeletal pain symptoms were reported as the main cause of disability by at least one third of women with each type of disability. Other symptoms that were less frequently reported as main causes of disability were weakness, fatigue, and unsteadiness. Fear of falls was reported by 14% (95% confidence interval, 11.2% to 17.6%) of 472 women with disability in bathing. When asked to report on the main condition causing their disability, many women responded, “old age” or “no specific disease,” but were able to identify symptoms causing their disabilities.

CONCLUSIONS: Musculoskeletal pain was the most common cause of disability reported by older women, followed by weakness and balance difficulties. Greater attention to symptoms that interfere with daily activities of older persons may reduce the burden of disability.

Key words

activities of daily livingagedepidemiologypainbalance

Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Suzanne G. Leveille
    • 3
  • Linda Fried
    • 1
  • Jack M. Guralnik
    • 2
  1. 1.the School of MedicineJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimore
  2. 2.the Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography, and BiometryNational Institute on AgingBethesda
  3. 3.HRCA Research and Training InstituteBoston