Whether you are a physical therapist, athletic trainer, chiropractor, personal trainer, or wellness professional, at some point in time you will interact with the senior adult. Fitness is typically related with the younger or middle aged adult, but people over 60 need adequate strength, flexibility and endurance to sustain function and perform normal activities of daily living. Therefore, functional tests are essential for the health professional interacting with the senior adult.
The typical strength and flexibility tests used with a younger population will usually not meet the needs of the senior adult nor will the normative values associated with those functional tests apply. Delaying frailty and improving functional mobility are primary goals when working with seniors. Functional tests designed for seniors can help identify weaknesses in those areas, hopefully before limitations occur. Following are brief descriptions of six essential functional tests for senior adults that are easy to perform and require very little equipment. Many software programs and other text resources are available for specific test protocols as well normative values.
30 second chair stand – This tests how many sit to stand and stand to sit repetitions can be done in 30 seconds. It is test of lower body strength and relates to functional activities such as entering and exiting cars or going from kneeling to standing.
Arm curl – This is a test of how many arm curls (biceps curls) that can be done in 30 seconds and used an 8 pound weight for men and a 5 pound weight for women. Functionally it test upper body strength and it relates to carrying groceries, lifting grandchildren or pouring juice from a jug.
2 minute step test – This functional test determines how many times a person can step in place, alternating legs, lifting the knee to about hip height in two minutes. This is a test of endurance and stamina. For stamina and endurance means easier doing things that require walking, such as shopping, traveling or going to the movies. More stamina means less fatigue and more independence.
Sit and reach – While sitting on the edge of a chair with one leg straight, the senior leans forward and gets their fingers as close to the foot as possible. The distance is measured. This is a flexibility test for the hamstrings and lower back. It relates to function as a role in walking, balance, fall prevention and helping to lower chance of back pain, all important for an independent lifestyle.
8 foot up and go – This functional test begins in a sitting position. The person stands, walks 8 feet to a cone or other marker, walks around the cone and returns to sit in the chair. The test is timed. This functional test measures agility, speed and balance and can relate to traveling on streets or walking in crowds safely. Good results with this functional test can influence confidence and self assurance.
Back scratch – This functional test is done by having the person reach behind the back with one arm and over and behind the head with the other arm and attempting to touch the fingers of both hands together. The distance is measured. The closer the fingers are to each other is a measure of flexibility and relates to functional activities such as dressing, reaching overhead to gather objects from shelves and similar tasks.
Knowing how to implement functional tests are essential for anyone working with people over 60. The number of people in this age group continues to grow as the population continues to age. These six functional tests are but a few available from many. Many fitness testing software programs will have many others (and the corresponding normative population values) to choose from. Being familiar with functional tests can help guide your exercise and fitness programs for these seniors, making you a more effective health professional.