Timed instrumental activities of daily living tasks: relationship to cognitive function and everyday performance assessments in older adults

Cynthia Owsley, Michael Sloane, Gerald McGwin, Karlene Ball
Gerontology 2002, 48 (4): 254-65

BACKGROUND: We live in a world where information is presented in a time-limited fashion and successful adaptation is dependent on time-limited responses. Slowed visual-processing speed is common among older adults. Its impact on everyday task performance is not clearly understood.

OBJECTIVE: The goal was to determine whether visual-processing speed, as well as memory and inductive reasoning, are independently associated with the time required by older adults to complete instrumental activities of daily living typical of everyday life.

METHODS: Five timed instrumental activities of daily (TIADL) tasks were administered to 173 older adults (ages 65-90 years) along with assessments of visual-processing speed, memory, and inductive reasoning. The dependent variable was the time required to perform the task (e.g., finding a telephone number, making change, finding and reading the ingredients on a can of food, finding food items on a shelf, reading instructions on medicine container). Medical and functional comorbidities known to affect task performance were measured in order to adjust for their impact on the dependent variable. Other measures of everyday task competence (Everyday Problems Test, Observed Tasks of Daily Living, questionnaire on IADL difficulties) were also administered in order to determine to what extent existing measures of everyday performance are associated with TIADL performance. Test-retest reliability of the TIADL score was assessed in a separate sample.

RESULTS: Although memory and reasoning were crudely related to the time needed to perform the TIADL tasks, only processing speed was independently associated with TIADL scores. Those older adults with slow processing speed were more likely to require longer times to complete everyday tasks. Previously developed measures of everyday task competence (e.g., Everyday Problems Test, Observed Tasks of Daily Living) based on accuracy scoring did not strongly predict TIADL performance.

CONCLUSION: These results suggest a unique role for an everyday competence test that focuses on the timely completion of everyday tasks, rather than on an assessment of accuracy alone. TIADL measures may prove useful in evaluating the everyday effectiveness of cognitive interventions targeted at increasing information-processing speed.

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