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    Original Investigation
    January 2019

    Effect of Exercise Intervention on Functional Decline in Very Elderly Patients During Acute Hospitalization: A Randomized Clinical Trial

    Author Affiliations
    • 1Geriatric Department, Complejo Hospitalario de Navarra, Pamplona, Navarra, Spain
    • 2Biomedical Research Centre of the Government of Navarre (Navarrabiomed) and Navarra Institute for Health Research, Pamplona, Navarra, Spain
    • 3Biomedical Research Networking Centers of Frailty and Healthy Aging, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Madrid, Spain
    • 4Department of Health Sciences, Public University of Navarra, Pamplona, Navarra, Spain
    • 5Faculty of Sports Sciences, Universidad Europea de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
    • 6Research Institute of the Hospital 12 de Octubre (“i+12”), Madrid, Spain
    • 7Geriatric Department, Hospital Universitario de Getafe, Getafe, Madrid, Spain
    JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(1):28-36. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4869
    Key Points

    Question  Can the functional and cognitive impairment associated with the acute hospitalization of older adults be reversed?

    Findings  This randomized clinical trial including 370 hospitalized elderly patients shows that the prescribed exercise intervention provided significant benefits over usual care. At discharge, significant differences between the exercise intervention and the control groups were noted for functional independence as well as cognitive and quality of life level.

    Meaning  An individualized, multicomponent exercise program proved safe and effective to reverse the functional decline associated with acute hospitalization in very elderly patients.


    Importance  Functional decline is prevalent among acutely hospitalized older patients. Exercise and early rehabilitation protocols applied during acute hospitalization can prevent functional and cognitive decline in older patients.

    Objective  To assess the effects of an innovative multicomponent exercise intervention on the functional status of this patient population.

    Design, Setting, and Participants  A single-center, single-blind randomized clinical trial was conducted from February 1, 2015, to August 30, 2017, in an acute care unit in a tertiary public hospital in Navarra, Spain. A total of 370 very elderly patients undergoing acute-care hospitalization were randomly assigned to an exercise or control (usual-care) intervention. Intention-to-treat analysis was conducted.

    Interventions  The control group received usual-care hospital care, which included physical rehabilitation when needed. The in-hospital intervention included individualized moderate-intensity resistance, balance, and walking exercises (2 daily sessions).

    Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary end point was change in functional capacity from baseline to hospital discharge, assessed with the Barthel Index of independence and the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB). Secondary end points were changes in cognitive and mood status, quality of life, handgrip strength, incident delirium, length of stay, falls, transfer after discharge, and readmission rate and mortality at 3 months after discharge.

    Results  Of the 370 patients included in the analyses, 209 were women (56.5%); mean (SD) age was 87.3 (4.9) years. The median length of hospital stay was 8 days in both groups (interquartile range, 4 and 4 days, respectively). Median duration of the intervention was 5 days (interquartile range, 0); there was a mean (SD) of 5 (1) morning and 4 (1) evening sessions per patient. No adverse effects were observed with the intervention. The exercise intervention program provided significant benefits over usual care. At discharge, the exercise group showed a mean increase of 2.2 points (95% CI, 1.7-2.6 points) on the SPPB scale and 6.9 points (95% CI, 4.4-9.5 points) on the Barthel Index over the usual-care group. Hospitalization led to an impairment in functional capacity (mean change from baseline to discharge in the Barthel Index of −5.0 points (95% CI, −6.8 to −3.2 points) in the usual-care group, whereas the exercise intervention reversed this trend (1.9 points; 95% CI, 0.2-3.7 points). The intervention also improved the SPPB score (2.4 points; 95% CI, 2.1-2.7 points) vs 0.2 points; 95% CI, −0.1 to 0.5 points in controls). Significant intervention benefits were also found at the cognitive level of 1.8 points (95% CI, 1.3-2.3 points) over the usual-care group.

    Conclusions and Relevance  The exercise intervention proved to be safe and effective to reverse the functional decline associated with acute hospitalization in very elderly patients.

    Trial Registration  ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02300896