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Open Access Research article

Restless legs syndrome and functional limitations among American elders in the Health and Retirement Study

Dominic J Cirillo12* and Robert B Wallace12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, IA, USA

2 Department of Epidemiology, University of Iowa College of Public Health, Iowa City, IA, USA

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BMC Geriatrics 2012, 12:39  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-12-39

Published: 26 July 2012

Abstract

Background

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common condition associated with decreased quality of life in older adults. This study estimates the prevalence, risk factors, and functional correlates of among U.S. elders.

Methods

Subjects (n = 1,008) were sub-sampled from the 2002 cross-sectional interview survey of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative study of U.S. elders. Symptoms and sleep disturbances consistent with RLS were identified. Activities of daily living (ADL), instrumental activities of daily living (IADL), and limitations for mobility, large muscle groups, gross and fine motor function were measured using standardized questions. Incident functional limitations were detected over six years of observation.

Results

The prevalence of RLS among U.S. elders born before 1947 was 10.6%. Factors associated with increased prevalence RLS at baseline included: overweight body mass index (multivariate adjusted prevalence ratio = 1.77; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.05-2.99); mild-to-moderate pain (2.67, 1.47-4.84) or pain inferring with activity (3.44, 2.00-5.93); three or more chronic medications (2.54, 1.26-5.12), highest quartile of out-of-pocket medical expenses (2.12, 1.17-3.86), frequent falls (2.63, 1.49-4.66), health limiting ability to work (2.91, 1.75-4.85), or problems with early waking or frequent wakening (1.69, 1.09-2.62 and 1.55, 1.00-2.41, respectively). Current alcohol consumption (0.59, 0.37-0.92) and frequent healthcare provider visits (0.49, 0.27-0.90) were associated with decreased RLS prevalence. RLS did not predict incident disability for aggregate measures but was associated with increased risk for specific limitations, including: difficulty climbing several stair flights (multivariate-adjusted hazard ratio = 2.38, 95% CI 1.39-4.06), prolonged sitting (2.17, 1.25-3.75), rising from a chair (2.54, 1.62-3.99), stooping (2.66, 1.71-4.15), moving heavy objects (1.79, 1.08-2.99), carrying ten pounds (1.61, 1.05-2.97), raising arms (1.76, 1.05-2.97), or picking up a dime (1.97, 1.12-3.46).

Conclusions

RLS sufferers are more likely to have functional disability, even after adjusting for health status and pain syndrome correlates.