Open Access Research article

Screening for pre-clinical disability in different residential settings

Kate Gibson1, Lesley Day2*, Keith D Hill345, Damien Jolley1, Stuart Newstead2, Flavia Cicuttini1, Leonie Segal6 and Leon Flicker7

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

2 Monash University Accident Research Centre, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

3 School of Physiotherapy, Latrobe University, Melbourne, Australia

4 Northern Health, Melbourne, Australia

5 National Ageing Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia

6 Division of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

7 Western Australia Centre for Health and Ageing, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

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BMC Geriatrics 2010, 10:52  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-10-52

Published: 3 August 2010



Preventing disability and offering effective interventions to older people during early decline in function is most likely to be effective if those most at risk of progressive disablement are able to be identified. Similarly the ability to easily identify a group with similar functional profile from disparate sectors of the community is of significant benefit to researchers. This study aimed to (1) describe the use of a pre-clinical disability screening tool to select a functionally comparable group of older men and women with early functional limitation from different settings, and (2) explore factors associated with function and disability.


Self-reported function and disability measured with the Late-Life Function and Disability Instrument along with a range of physical performance measurements were compared across residential settings and gender in a sample of 471 trial participants identified as pre-clinically disabled after being screened with the Fried pre-clinical disability tool. Factors that might lie on the pathway to progressive disablement were identified using multiple linear regression analysis.


We found that a sample population, screened for pre-clinical disability, had a functional status and disability profile reflecting early functional limitation, regardless of residential setting or gender. Statistical models identified a range of factors associated with function and disability which explained a greater degree of the variation in function, than disability.


We selected a group of people with a comparable function and disability profile, consistent with the pre-clinical stage of disability, from a sample of older Australian men and women from different residential settings using the Fried pre-clinical disability screening tool. The results suggest that the screening tool can be used with greater confidence for research, clinical and population health purposes. Further research is required to examine the validity of the tool. These findings offer insight into the type of impairment factors characterising early functional loss that could be addressed through disability prevention initiatives.

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