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Revista Brasileira de Geriatria e Gerontologia

versión On-line ISSN 1981-2256

Rev. bras. geriatr. gerontol. vol.19 no.3 Rio de Janeiro mayo/jun. 2016

https://doi.org/10.1590/1809-98232016019.150086 

Review article

Prevalence of functional incapacity by gender in elderly people in Brazil: a systematic review with meta-analysis

Ana Cristina Viana Campos1 

Maria Helena Morgani de Almeida2 

Gisele Viana Campos3 

Tania Fernandes Bogutchi4 

1Universidade Federal do Sul e Sudeste do Pará, Instituto de Estudos em Saúde e Biológicas. Marabá, Pará, Brasil.

2Universidade de São Paulo, Faculdade de Medicina, Departamento de Fisioterapia, Fonoaudiologia e Terapia Ocupacional. São Paulo, São Paulo, Brasil.

3Associação de Pais e Amigos dos Excepcionais, Setor de Terapia Ocupacional. Lavras, Minas Gerais, Brasil.

4Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais, Instituto de Ciências Exatas e Informática, Departamento de Matemática. Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brasil.


Abstract

Considering that functional capacity is an important indicator of health in aging, the present study aimed to describe the prevalence of disability by gender among elderly people in Brazil through a systematic review and meta-analysis of articles about this subject. Articles published up to June 2013 were included, and a search was performed of the MEDLINE, SciELO, LILACS, Scopus, Web of Science and Science Direct electronic databases. The inclusion of articles in the systematic review was guided by the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) and by the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. A descriptive analysis of the selected articles was performed and expressed in a forest-plot type graph. Of 3,656 articles initially identified in all the databases, 2,585 duplicates were excluded and 23 articles were deemed eligible for review. Prevalence rates ranged from 12.3% to 94.1% for men and from 14.9% to 84.6% for women. The methods used to assess functional capacity in elderly people in Brazil also differed between the articles. This variation complicates the comparison of results between the articles, demonstrating the need for standardized methods of measuring functional capacity.

Key words: Aging; Health of the Elderly; Gender; Functional Disability

Resumo

Considerando-se a importância da capacidade funcional como indicador de saúde para idosos e as informações dispersas sobre o tema em pesquisas brasileiras, este artigo teve como objetivo descrever a prevalência de incapacidade funcional por gênero entre idosos brasileiros por meio de uma revisão sistemática com metanálise de artigos referentes ao tema. Identificaram-se artigos publicados até junho de 2013. A busca foi realizada nas bases de dados eletrônicas MEDLINE, SciELO, LILACS, Scopus, Web of Science e Science Direct. A inclusão dos artigos na revisão sistemática foi guiada pelo Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) e pelo Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA). A análise dos artigos selecionados foi feita de forma descritiva e expressa em gráficos do tipo Forest-plot. Dos 3.656 artigos inicialmente identificados em todas as bases, 2.585 duplicatas foram excluídas e 23 artigos foram considerados elegíveis para a revisão. As taxas de prevalência de incapacidade variaram de 12,3% a 94,1% para os homens e de 14,9% a 84,6% para as mulheres. Os métodos utilizados para avaliar a capacidade funcional em idosos brasileiros também diferiram entre os artigos. Essa variação dificulta a comparação de resultados entre os artigos, o que demonstra a necessidade de se utilizar métodos padronizados para mensurar capacidade funcional de idosos por gênero.

Palavras-chave: Envelhecimento; Saúde do Idoso; Gênero; Incapacidade Funcional

INTRODUCTION

Maintaining functional capacity is considered to be the main parameter for the assessment of health and quality of life during the aging process.1 From this perspective, the promotion of healthy aging can involve the adoption and consolidation of active lifestyles that include frequent physical activity, the diversification of one's daily routine, and active participation in groups as possible ways of exercising functional capacity.2 As a result, measures to promote health and the prevention of disease, along with the appropriate management of existing comorbidities, are aimed at maintaining this capacity and preventing disabilities.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO),3 functional incapacity can be understood as the process of losing the ability to perform the daily tasks necessary for an independent and autonomous life. From a practical standpoint, this ability can be measured by the performance of daily activities, which are didactically divided into basic activities of daily living (BADL) such as bathing, eating, using the toilet and walking through the rooms of the house, and instrumental activities of daily living (IADL), such as shopping, performing housework and preparing meals. It has been shown that there is a dose-response type association between age and the prevalence of functional incapacity, and that aging is different for men and women.5,6 However, most such studies involve representative samples of municipal districts or states, and not nationwide research.

Considering the importance of functional capacity as a health indicator for the elderly and the scattered information on the topic in Brazilian research, the present study aimed to describe the prevalence of functional incapacity by gender among elderly Brazilian individuals through a systematic review and meta-analysis of articles on the topic.

METHOD

In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we sought to answer the following question: Are there differences by gender in the prevalence of functional incapacity among elderly Brazilians?

A search for articles published up to June 2013 was performed in the MEDLINE, SciELO, LILACS, Scopus, Web of Science and Science Direct electronic databases.

The descriptors used in the review process were selected after consulting the Bireme DeCS Health Sciences Descriptors. The search was conducted in English using concepts grouped into three blocks. The first included terms related to functional capacity ("functional assessment", "functionality", "daily activities") the second with terms related to aging ("old" and "old age") and the third with terms related to Brazil ("Brazil"). To combine these descriptors, we used the logical operator "OR" within each block and the logical operator "AND" to combine the blocks. The same search strategy was used in all the databases surveyed.

We chose not to employ any restrictions related to the size of the data, language, type of study or sample or publication period. Although the studies did not cover the same time periods, we did not exclude articles based on publication period to ensure that all the studies of potential relevance to the review were included.

The inclusion criteria were: a population sample consisting only of elderly persons (aged 60 years or over); assessment of functional capacity to calculate the prevalence of incapacity by gender, and data collection carried out in Brazil. Articles were excluded if they were limited to specific health conditions among the elderly (obesity, hypertension, diabetes, dementia and other diseases). In addition, the authors chose to exclude theses, dissertations and monographs, as systematic research on this topic for these works would not be viable.

Articles were firstly selected by title and abstract and then through a full reading. Each article was reviewed and selected by two reviewers. Where there was disagreement, a third person was consulted. Duplicate articles, with identical results published in different magazines, were checked to allow the exclusion of one of the studies. In the case of the duplication of articles from more than one database, the version with the widest scope was maintained.

In addition to prevalence of functional incapacity, the articles selected were mapped in relation to type of study, location, sample size, age of participants, type of statistical analysis and the method of evaluation and classification of functional capacity.

In the case of items with incomplete information, three attempts were made to contact the corresponding author via e-mail, between the months of August and September 2013, in order to seek additional information. A standard e-mail was sent to the authors, requesting the following information: n total of statistical analysis, percentage of men in the sample and prevalence of functional incapacity by gender.

The instruments used to assess the methodological quality of the observational articles to be included in the systematic review were Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) and Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA). STROBE contains 22 items that deal with recommendations on what should be contained in a precise and complete description in an observational study.7 PRISMA is a list of specific checks for systematic review studies. It contains 27 topics and is designed to increase the quality of systematic reviews and meta-analyzes of randomized controlled trials and nonrandomized studies.8

Analysis of the selected articles was carried out descriptively and in two stages. The first included: year; authorship; location; type of study; target population; study design and statistical analysis of data. The second stage comprised an analysis of the prevalence of functional incapacity by gender data with the Mantel-Haenszel test and presentation via a forest-plot graph using the BioEstat 3.0 program.

RESULTS

Figure 1 shows the flowchart of the article selection process. Of the 3,656 articles initially identified from all the databases, 2,585 duplicates were excluded and 114 articles were eligible for a full reading. It was not possible to identify the prevalence of functional incapacity in percentage form in 42 of the articles, and 28 articles did not separately assess functionality by gender. Although 44 articles were reviewed and approved according to the PRISMA and STROBE criteria, 21 articles were excluded due to a lack of response from the authors for complementary information. After this stage, 23 items were considered eligible for the systematic review.

Figure 1 Flowchart of selection of scientific articles from databases. Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, 2014. 

All articles present in the review defined a minimum age for inclusion in the study. A total of 19 (82.0%) studies included individuals aged 60 years of age or older; two (8.7%) included persons aged 65 or more, and the same number included individuals aged 80 or older.

In terms of study location, nine9-17 (39.0%) studies were exclusively conducted in urban areas, one18 (4.3%) was carried out in a rural region, two19,20 (8.7%) were performed in both and seven21-27 (30.0%) did not specify whether the study was conducted in an urban or rural area. The four (17.4%)28-31 remaining studies involved elderly persons in long term care facilities (LTCFs), users of health plans, those admitted to gerontology-geriatric nursing care and elderly persons treated in public rehabilitation services, respectively.

Only eight (35.0%) studies12,15,18,19,21,27-29 explicitly described one or more exclusion criteria for participation in the studies. These included: be aged under 60 or not registered in the LTCFs studied (4.3%); be a private health care plan user or reside outside the coverage area (4.3%); could not respond to the questionnaire (13.0%); was not found at home for data collection (8.7%); was bedridden (4.3%); presented cognitive and/or mobility impairment (4.3%).

The characteristics of the articles are shown in Table 1. In relation to the databases, 13 (56.5%) articles9,10,13,17-21,23,24,28-30 were published in LILACS, eight (34.7%) in PUBMED11,12,14,16,25-27,30 and only two (8.7%) articles15,22 were selected from the SciELO base. No articles were selected from the Scopus, Web of Science and Science Direct databases.

Most of the research was carried out between the years 2009 and 2013, and 11 (47.8%)11,12,16,17,20,22,24,25,28,30,31 studies were conducted in the southeast of Brazil. Of the total of 23 studies, only four (17.3%)12,16,22,26 were of the longitudinal type carried out in the homes of elderly people and provided prevalence data for a given year (table 1).

Table 1 Characteristics of articles included in the review. Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, 2014. 

Authors Location Database Type of study Data collection Measure of functional incapacity Age range Sample Men (%) Losses (%) Type of statistical analysis
Aires et al. 201019 Three regions (RS) LILACS Cross-sectional Secondary data BOMFAQ ≥80 years Probabilistic 36.1 27.5 Multiple logistic regression
Araújo et al. 200728 Taubaté (SP) LILACS Cross-sectional LTCF Katz Scale ≥60 years Census 25.6 Not described Descriptive analysis
Cardoso & Costa, 201029 Porto Alegre (RS) LILACS Cross-sectional Domiciliary Need for assistance with activities of daily living ≥60 years Probabilistic 44.5 Not described Chi-squared test
Cardoso et al. 201221 São Leopoldo (RS) LILACS Cross-sectional Domiciliary Barthel Index ≥60 years Census 28.2 3.7 Poisson Regression
d'Orsi et al. 201122 São Paulo (SP) SciELO Longitudinal Domiciliary BOMFAQ ≥60 years Probabilistic 38.0 38.7 Poisson Regression
Fiedler & Peres, 20089 Joaçaba (SC) LILACS Cross-sectional Domiciliary Functional fitness test ≥60 years Probabilistic 34.8 7.3 Multiple logistic regression
Freitas et al. 201210 Lafaiete Coutinho (BA) LILACS Cross-sectional Domiciliary Katz Scale and LBI ≥60 years Census 45.3 Not described Multiple logistic regression
Giacomin et al. 200811 RMBH (MG) PUBMED Cross-sectional Domiciliary Difficulty in performing at least one IADL ≥60 years Probabilistic 41.1 3.1 Multiple logistic regression
Lebrão & Laurenti 200512 São Paulo (SP) PUBMED Longitudinal Domiciliary Pfeffer functional activities questionnaire ≥60 years Probabilistic 41.4 Not described Descriptive analysis
Lima-Costa et al. 200323 PNAD 1998 LILACS Cross-sectional Domiciliary Difficulty in feeding oneself, bathing or going to the bathroom ≥60 years Probabilistic 44.47 1.1 Descriptive analysis
Maciel & Guerra 200713 Santa Cruz (RN) LILACS Cross-sectional Domiciliary Katz Scale and LBI ≥60 years Probabilistic 36.5 11.0 Logistic Regression
Medeiros et al. 201214 Florianópolis (SC) PUBMED Cross-sectional Domiciliary Katz Scale and LBI ≥60 years Probabilistic 36.1 10.8 Poisson Regression
Nogueira et al. 201024 São Geraldo (MG) LILACS Cross-sectional Domiciliary Andreotti and Okuma scale of self-assessed performance of IADL ≥80 years Non- Probabilistic 47.0 Not described Multiple logistic regression
Nunes et al. 200925 Ubá (MG) SciELO Cross-sectional Domiciliary Andreotti and Okuma scale of self-assessed performance of IADL ≥60 years Probabilistic 41.5 0 Multiple logistic regression
Nunes et al. 201015 Goiânia (GO) PUBMED Cross-sectional Domiciliary BADL and IADL ≥60 years Probabilistic 40.3 4.6 Chi-squared test and Fisher`s Exact Test
Ramos et al. 199816 São Paulo (SP) PUBMED Longitudinal Domiciliary BOMFAQ ≥60 years Probabilistic 35.0 Not described Chi-squared test
Rigo et al. 201018 Nova Roma do Sul (RS) LILACS Cross-sectional Domiciliary OARS IADL Scale ≥60 years Census 44.1 12.8 Descriptive analysis
Rosa et al. 200317 São Paulo (SP) LILACS Cross-sectional Domiciliary OARS IADL Scale ≥60 years Probabilistic 35.5 29.2 Multiple logistic regression
Rossi et al. 201330 São Paulo (SP) PUBMED Cross-sectional Rehabilitation Center BOMFAQ ≥60 years Non- Probabilistic 36.1 7.1 Chi-squared test
Santos et al. 200726 GUATAMBU (SC) LILACS Cross-sectional Domiciliary Barthel Index ≥60 years Census 29.0 5.1 Poisson Regression
Santos et al. 200820 São Paulo (SP) PUBMED Longitudinal Domiciliary Difficulty in performing IADLs ≥60 years Probabilistic 47.5 30.9 Logistic Regression
Santos & Griep, 201327 Belém (PA) PUBMED Cross-sectional Laboratory MPPT ≥60 years Non- Probabilistic 52.6 1.5 Logistic Regression
Siqueira et al. 200431 São Paulo (SP) LILACS Clinical Hospital BOMFAQ and OARS IADL Scale ≥60 years Non- Probabilistic 43.8 Not described Chi-squared test

BADL= basic activities of daily living; IADL= instrumental activities of daily living; BOMFAQ= Brazilian OARS Multidimensional Function Assessment Questionnaire; LTCF= Long-term Care Facility for the Elderly; MPPT= Modified Physical Performance Test; OARS= Older American Resources and Services; LBI= Lawton-Brody Index.

Functional incapacity was measured indirectly, or in other words, based on information provided by individuals. In all the studies included in this review the BADL and IADL measurement scales were the most commonly used instruments. Five (21.7%) studies16,19,22,30,31 used the Brazilian Multidimensional Function Assessment Questionnaire (BOMFAQ), three (13.0%) studies10,13,14 used the Katz scale combined with the Lawton-Brody Index (LBI) and three (13.0%) studies17,18,31 used the ABVD scale from Older American Resources and Services (OARS). Although most studies used previously validated questionnaires that provided scores, four (17.3%)11,21,23,26 inquired about the functional capacity of older people through open questions regarding the presence of difficulty in performing one or more BADL or IADL (table 1).

With respect to the sampling process, there was significant gender variation in the composition of the samples, with only one study27 mainly comprising men. Five studies (21.7%) used census data10,18,20,28,29 and 14 (60.8%)9,11-17,19,20-23,25 used a probabilistic sampling process based on selecting the number of participants through a draw and/or the number of households sampled. Seven (30.4%) studies10,12,16,21,24,28,31 did not describe the loss percentage of the sample (Table 1).

In terms of data analysis, comparisons between prevalence and frequency data were mixed, with logistic regression the most used statistical test (ten studies).9-11,13,15,17,19,24,26,27 Only four (17.3%) studies14,20,22,29 used Poisson Regression for the analysis of prevalence data (table 1).

Data relating to the prevalence of functional incapacity in each study and prevalence stratified by gender is shown in Table 2. There was considerable variability in the overall prevalence results, which ranged from 13.2% to 85.0%. Prevalence rates by gender ranged from 12.3% to 94.1% for men and from 14.9% to 84.6% for women.

Table 2 Prevalence of functional incapacity among elderly Brazilians (total and by gender). Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, 2014. 

Authors Total (N) Prevalence of functional incapacity
Total (%) Men (%) Women (%)
Aires et al. 201019 214 45.8 54.1 45.9
Araújo et al. 200728 187 62.6 94.1 68.5
Cardoso et al. 201029 254 13.8 12.4 14.9
Cardoso et al. 201221 1,078 26.1 19.3 28.7
d'Orsi et al. 201122 1,667 41.7 17.2 17.8
Fiedler & Peres, 20089 345 37.1 25.8 43.1
Freitas et al. 201210 316 57.7 63.7 50.4
Giacomin et al. 200811 1,786 16.0 12.3 18.6
Lebrão & Laurenti, 200512 2,143 19.3 14.8 22.5
Lima-Costa et al. 200323 28,943 15.4 13.3 17.1
Maciel & Guerra, 200713 310 13.2 68.4 44.8
Medeiros et al. 201214 1,656 30.0 23.1 33.4
Nogueira et al. 201024 129 28.7 57.4 71.3
Nunes et al. 200925 397 20.2 16.2 30.0
Nunes et al. 201015 388 34.8 27.0 40.5
Ramos et al. 199816 1,167 66.4 54.8 72.6
Rigo et al. 201018 39 64.7 46.5 78.9
Rosa et al. 200317 1,362 24.4 70.3 54.2
Rossi et al. 201330 130 26.9 69.5 30.5
Santos et al. 200726 371 30.5 24.3 37.1
Santos et al. 200820 1,479 30.1 13.4 27.1
Santos & Griep, 201327 259 45.6 28.0 52.7
Siqueira et al. 200431 94 85.0 85.7 84.6

The sample sizes of the studies also varied, with the smallest consisting of 39 elderly persons and the largest of 28,943 elderly individuals (Table 2).

Taking into account the samples of all the studies, 44,714 elderly persons were interviewed. The result of the Chi-squared and Mantel-Haenszel tests are shown in Figure 2. There was a significant statistical difference between men and women in relation to the prevalence of functional incapacity. The proportion of functional incapacity among women was 1.51 times greater than among men (p<0.001), with a confidence interval of between 1.43 and 1.59. This effect was not significant in only five studies (21.7%)16,24,26-28, where the horizontal line of the Forest-plot graph crossed the vertical line.

Figure 2 Forest-plot of prevalence of functional incapacity of elderly Brazilian individuals by gender. Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, 2014. 

DISCUSSION

The vast majority of studies included in this systematic review were conducted in the south and southeast of Brazil. A possible explanation for this finding would be the significant regional differences in the rate of aging, which has an effect on the scientific production of each area. A study based on 2010 census data found that population aging in Brazil is increasing rapidly, with an increase of 268.0% in the aging rate between 1970 and 2010. In terms of regional variation, in 2010 the highest rates were found in the south (54.9%) and southeast (54.5%) and the lowest rate was found in the north (21.8%).32

The samples of the selected studies were mainly composed of women, corroborating official Brazilian data. The aforementioned census results found that the gender ratio, which had been 99.8 men for every 100 women in 1960, was 96 men for every 100 women in 2010.33

This study confirmed the high prevalence of functional incapacity among elderly Brazilians and the wide variability between genders. The average prevalence was 42.8% (±21.0) among women and 39.6% (±26.2) among men. These results are similar to other Brazilian studies.34,35

In eight of the studies selected for review,11,12,15,19,21,22,24,31 the prevalence of functional incapacity among women was higher than 50.0%. Differences in the prevalence of functional incapacity between genders were also identified in other articles.23,36

Few studies have been published in Brazil that attempt to assess possible explanations for gender differences in functional incapacity, or the more accentuated loss of functional capacity among women.14

Some hypotheses to explain this gender difference include the fact that women tend to report greater functional difficulties than men;2 there are higher initial levels of incapacity among older women;36 and greater longevity among women, which combined with limitations, may lead to dependency on care.2 An additional hypothesis for explaining these differences is based on higher levels of widowhood among women in comparison to men.34,35 The resulting weakening of an individual's support network associated with greater life expectancy and a higher prevalence of chronic diseases increase the vulnerability of women to incapacitating conditions.

In the case of the present study, variations in prevalence can also be explained by the lack of standardization in the measures of functional capacity used and the differences in sample size between the studies.

Two of the selected studies19,24 involved octogenarians. The variability of the cutoff points used to analyze the data made it impossible to establish a relationship between age and functional capacity by gender during meta-analysis. However, age has been considered an important risk factor for functional incapacity, and elderly persons aged over 75 years of age are less likely to recover.36-38 The initial results of the Rede de Estudos sobre a Fragilidade em Idosos Brasileiros (Frailty among Elderly Brazilians Study Network) (FIBRA) found a statistically significant reduction in the performance of BADL and IADL over a six-month period in a sample of 167 elderly persons in Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Gerais.39

Although important indicators have been established to define the functional incapacity of older elderly persons that hinders the performance of daily activities, Brazilian scientific production related to the functionality of this population is recent.40

The instruments used to assess functional incapacity among elderly Brazilians in literature and in this systematic review are mostly indirect and self-reported methods of evaluation, and refer to how the elderly individuals perform their daily activities, most specifically ADLs and IADLs. The advantage of using self-reported or subjective measures is that it provides information on the severity and type of limitations experienced in different situations and contexts.41 Furthermore, these questionnaires are easy to access and apply and can be good indicators for assessing incapacity and/or limitations in the physical functioning and mental health of the elderly caused by disease and other conditions associated with aging.42 The disadvantages of using these instruments include the fact that information collected through self-reporting may be influenced by the physiological, cognitive and emotional changes that occur during aging. Furthermore, for elderly individuals living in the community, some of these instruments do not have the necessary discriminatory power for all ADLs and IADLs, as the majority of such individuals are considered functionally independent.

The scales adopted in the selected studies include the BOMFAQ,43 the Katz scale44 and the Lawton-Brody index.45

The BOMFAQ is used to evaluate the difficulty involved in performing 15 daily activities, of which eight are classified as BADLs and seven are considered IADLs. The reported presence of difficulty or dependence involved in each of these activities is recorded, regardless of the degree of such difficulty or dependence.43

The Katz scale evaluates independence in six ADLs on three levels, through which the elderly person is classified into one of eight possible categories.44 In Brazil, the cross-cultural adaptation and validation of the Katz scale into Portuguese was performed by Lino et al.46

The Lawton-Brody scale, assessed for reliability by Santos & Virtuoso47 and validated by Araújo et al.,48 was also adopted in some of the studies, and evaluates independence in six BADLs, described by the authors as the physical activities of daily living, eight IADL for women and five for men, in three to five levels. There are two score possibilities, one of which considers the score for each activity and one that considers the total score.

The limitations of this systematic review are related to the variability in the research types and the contexts in which data collection was performed, as well as the small number of characteristics analyzed. This may explain, at least in part, the heterogeneity of the prevalence of functional incapacity observed in the articles selected.

Considering that Brazilian scientific literature is relatively recent in relation to the calculation of prevalence of incapacity among the elderly, it was decided not to adopt a strict delimitation in the search strategy. The main selection criteria for this review were age and the absence of specific health conditions among the elderly individuals, which did not allow a full comparison between the populations.

Moreover, although all the selected studies used questionnaires and scales to measure functional capacity, the cutoff point for failure differed among the studies. These variations demonstrate the need to use standardized methods in the cross-cultural adaptation process to objectively calculate the functionality of the elderly, and investigate risk and protective factors between the genders.

Despite its limitations, this review can serve as a basis for studying the influence of the clinical situation of elderly persons, and of possible associations between diseases and morbidities that can compromise the functional capacity of the elderly and therefore directly influence the prevalence of functional incapacity.

CONCLUSION

The main contribution of the present study lies in the fact that it is the first to use a systematic review and meta-analysis to investigate the prevalence of functional incapacity among the elderly by gender. It can be concluded that the prevalence of functional incapacity in elderly Brazilians is high, especially among women. The results of this systematic review also suggest that the differences between the genders need to be better investigated. The conditions necessary to enable the results of studies to be compared include the standardization of the instruments used for measuring functional disabilities, and the definition of variables and other comparable measures for the realization of meta-regression and the testing of associations between disability and possible risk factors.

It is suggested that further studies should include, as well as a rigorous design, a sample of sufficient size to allow statistical comparison between men and women, and the application of standardized instruments for monitoring long-term results.

Despite the challenges observed, it is believed that the present study represents an initial effort to systematize information about functional capacity, a major health indicator for elderly persons. Further studies of this nature will allow the identification of specific groups for intervention and health promotion strategies, aimed primarily at maintaining and improving the functional capacity and autonomy of the elderly as long as possible.

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Received: April 23, 2015; Revised: February 10, 2016; Accepted: April 19, 2016

Correspondence Ana Cristina Viana Campos E-mail: campos.acv@gmail.com

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