COVID causes 'physical decline' in people over 50: study

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By , NewsRadio 1080 KRLD

People over 50 who suffer from even the mildest case of COVID-19 are at risk of developing mobility and physical function problems, according to a new study.

The study found many COVID survivors in the upper age group were left with problems performing normal everyday tasks, such as walking up stairs and even standing up from a sitting position.

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"Middle-aged and older adults with confirmed, probable, or suspected COVID-19 had nearly 2-fold higher odds of worsening mobility and physical function compared with adults without COVID-19," researchers wrote.

What's more is 94% of the people with lingering mobility issues didn't even have serious cases of COVID-19, according to Marla Beauchamp, an assistant professor at McMaster University and lead author of the study.

"Our data does show that in people that have mild to moderate COVID-19, there is still a risk for mobility problems, physical function problems that persist after the COVID-19 diagnosis," Beauchamp told CTVNews.ca.

The study looked at data from more than 24,000 participants aged 45 to 85 across Canada from April to December 2020. Participants were asked to report changes in their mobility in three domains: ability to move around the home, engage in housework, and engage in physical activity. Participants were also asked to report whether or not they experienced difficulty in standing up after sitting in a chair, walking up and down a flight of stairs without assistance, and walking two to three neighborhood blocks.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more than one in four participants reported worsening ability to engage in physical activity, 8.9% reported worsening ability to move around in their home and 8.6% reported worsening ability to engage in housework.

Compared with rates reported at the first follow-up, 15.2% of participants reported new difficulty in standing up after sitting in a chair, 10.4% reported new difficulty walking up and down a flight of stairs without assistance, and 11.1% reported new difficulty walking a few neighborhood blocks.

Researchers say their findings suggest that receiving a COVID diagnosis is significantly associated with physical decline in older populations, even in the absence of hospitalization.

"And so a substantial proportion of people might in fact need some kind of support to get back to their physical functioning levels that they were at before they contracted COVID-19," Beauchamp explained.

The study does not explain the cause of the physical decline. It mentions previous research that indicates the coronavirus can cause inflammatory damage to the central nervous system tissue, prolonged fatigue, sleep disturbances, and changes in cognition -- which may explain the subsequent physical decline.

"It is also possible that public health recommendations for quarantine and self-isolation for individuals who have test results positive for COVID-19 restricted physical activity and may have exacerbated the mobility and physical function decline," researchers said.

The study was published Wednesday in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.

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