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Assisted Living Facilities Should Implement More Gender-Specific Physical Activities for Their Residents

Aging causes individuals to become more vulnerable to chronic diseases and functional disabilities, which in turn diminishes quality of life and incurs more healthcare costs. Thus, improving the health of older adults is a critical concern in healthcare. As the older population rapidly increases, so does the need for long-term care. Compared with elderly people in nursing homes, those in assisted living facilities have greater health potential. However, the care needs of older adults will need to be modified as their health and functional levels change.

The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages the implementation of population-based strategies and interventions to increase physical activity levels worldwide. Physical activity is any bodily movement made by skeletal muscles that needs energy expenditure. The health benefits of physical activity for older adults is well known. Not only does physical activity enhance physical, mental, and psychosocial health, it also helps to prevent the decline of physical functioning and enhances functional independence, particularly in frail older adults. However, the levels of physical activity deteriorates with increasing age and tend to be lower in institutionalized older individuals than in their community-dwelling counterparts.

Institutionalization creates various barriers that cause a reduction in physical activity among older adults, such as health issues and environmental constraints. However, physical activity can speed up the rate of physical and functional decline. Further decrease in functional status due to inactivity not only increases the intensity and expense of care but also negatively influences quality of life. Thus, assisted living facilities should aim to maintain and increase their residents’ levels of physical activity to prevent them from experiencing the negative consequences of inactivity.

Studies in the past about physical activity in older adults shows that various factors relate to activity participation. These factors include health status, depression, and self-efficacy expectations as major determinants of physical activity among older adults. Studies have indicated that poor health and functional limitations are negatively associated with physical activity. Depression has also been found to indicate declining physical activity and is one of the primary causes of disability in older adults.

Gender differences is an important consideration in analyzing physical activity of older adults. Older men and women suffer from differing types of chronic diseases. Furthermore, older women undergo more obstacles to physical activity, such as lower educational level, poorer health, and higher occurrence of functional limitations, and more depressive symptoms than older men. In addition, previous studies have shown that older women participate in a lower level of physical activity than older men.

Few studies have been done that explore the physical activity of assisted living residents, not to mention gender differences. Given the vast health potential of assisted living residents, conducting cross-gender comparisons of physical activity is crucial. The findings will give healthcare providers the ability to apply empirical evidence in practice. Thus, a recent study has explored gender differences in the predictors of physical activity among assisted living residents. The predictors analyzed were demographic characteristics, health status, depression, and self-efficacy expectations. By making gender-specific predictors more easily understandable, healthcare providers can implement gender-specific physical-activity-enhancing interventions that promote physical independence among older residents.

The results of the study show that no differences were present between genders in total physical activity. However, older men participated more frequently in difficult activities than older women. Previous research also showed that older women participated in easier forms of physical activity than older men. A possible explanation that was given was that older women have a lower level of functional status than older men, although the difference was not statistically significant.

Efforts focusing on the prevention of decline in the level of physical activity among older women and men in assisted living facilities and enabling them to engage in the desired level of physical activity to obtain health benefits are important. Having a deeper understanding of gender-specific predictors can assist healthcare providers in implementing gender-sensitive physical-activity-enhancing programs to assist older residents in performing adequate physical activity.