Three tests can be used to measure balance, fitness, and independent function in people with I/DD

By Joyce Maring, PT, EdD
Physical Therapy, The George Washington University

As people get older they are more likely to fall, lose the ability to take care of themselves, or be hospitalized. Simple physical tests are available for people who are getting older with no disability to warn them they have more risk so they can take action to prevent injury or loss of independence. Persons with intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) are at even a higher risk than people without disabilities as they get older but there are very few physical tests available to measure their risk.

What did you do in your research?
We adapted 3 tests that measure balance, fitness, and independent function so they would be easy to use with people with I/DD. We then used the tests with volunteers with I/DD who were over 50 years old. We compared test scores for our volunteers who had falls or were in the hospital the previous year to those volunteers who had no falls and who were not hospitalized.

What did you find out?
The tests identified those volunteers at higher risk since the persons who had fallen or were hospitalized had much lower scores on all 3 of the tests. The tests did not take a lot of effort or time. Persons with I/DD who had trouble with one test, such as the balance test, were also likely to have difficulty with the fitness and function test. The tests that were adapted included:
  • Performance-Oriented Mobility Assessment I (balance and gait)
  • 2-Minute Walk Test (general fitness)
  • Modified Barthel Index (functional independence)

What are the take-home messages?
These tests are easy to do and would help persons with disability, family members and health workers know when someone has an increased risk for falling, losing independence or even ending up in the hospital. Using them regularly might help health workers track when someone might need extra assistance to avoid injury, maintain independence and stay healthy.

To learn more about these findings contact
Joyce Maring.

Full Journal Article
Maring, J.R., Costello, E., Birkmeier, M.C., Richards, M. and Alexander, L.M. (2013). Validating functional measures of physical ability for aging people with intellectual developmental disability. American Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 118(2), 124-140.