Sensory and Motor Peripheral Nerve Function and Incident Mobility Disability

R. E. Ward, R. M. Boudreau, P. Caserotti, T. B. Harris, S. Zivkovic, B. H. Goodpaster, S. Satterfield, S. B. Kritchevsky, A. V. Schwartz, A. I. Vinik, J. A. Cauley, E. M. Simonsick, A. B. Newman, E. S. Strotmeyer, Study Hlth Aging Body Composition

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Objectives To assess the relationship between sensorimotor nerve function and incident mobility disability over 10 years.

Design Prospective cohort study with longitudinal analysis.

Setting Two U.S. clinical sites.

Participants Population-based sample of community-dwelling older adults with no mobility disability at 2000/01 examination (N = 1,680; mean age ± SD 76.5 ± 2.9, body mass index 27.1 ± 4.6; 50.2% female, 36.6% black, 10.7% with diabetes mellitus).

Measurements Motor nerve conduction amplitude (poor <1 mV) and velocity (poor <40 m/s) were measured on the deep peroneal nerve. Sensory nerve function was measured using 10- and 1.4-g monofilaments and vibration detection threshold at the toe. Lower extremity symptoms included numbness or tingling and aching or burning pain. Incident mobility disability assessed semiannually over 8.5 years (interquartile range 4.5-9.6 years) was defined as two consecutive self-reports of a lot of difficulty or inability to walk one-quarter of a mile or climb 10 steps.

Results Nerve impairments were detected in 55% of participants, and 30% developed mobility disability. Worse motor amplitude (HR = 1.29 per SD, 95% CI = 1.16-1.44), vibration detection threshold (HR = 1.13 per SD, 95% CI = 1.04-1.23), symptoms (HR = 1.65, 95% CI = 1.26-2.17), two motor impairments (HR = 2.10, 95% CI = 1.43-3.09), two sensory impairments (HR = 1.91, 95% CI = 1.37-2.68), and three or more nerve impairments (HR = 2.33, 95% CI = 1.54-3.53) predicted incident mobility disability after adjustment. Quadriceps strength mediated relationships between certain nerve impairments and mobility disability, although most remained significant.

Conclusion Poor sensorimotor nerve function independently predicted mobility disability. Future work should investigate modifiable risk factors and interventions such as strength training for preventing disability and improving function in older adults with poor nerve function.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)2273-2279
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • disability
  • longitudinal analysis
  • muscle strength
  • older adults
  • peripheral nerve function
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Peripheral Nerves/physiopathology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Humans
  • Tennessee
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases/physiopathology
  • Male
  • Toes/innervation
  • Neural Conduction/physiology
  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Body Composition/physiology
  • Mobility Limitation
  • Sensory Thresholds/physiology
  • Motor Neurons/physiology
  • Female
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Risk Factors
  • Pennsylvania
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Longitudinal Studies

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