Cluster analysis of functional independence in community-dwelling older people

Esther A.L.M. Molenaar*, Di Janne Ja Barten, Anne M.S. de Hoop, Nienke Bleijenberg, Niek J. de Wit, Cindy Veenhof

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: The concept of Functional Independence (FI), defined as ‘functioning physically safe and independent from other persons, within one’s context”, plays an important role in maintaining the functional ability to enable well-being in older age. FI is a dynamic and complex concept covering four clinical outcomes: physical capacity, empowerment, coping flexibility, and health literacy. As the level of FI differs widely between older adults, healthcare professionals must gain insight into how to best support older people in maintaining their level of FI in a personalized manner. Insight into subgroups of FI could be a first step in providing personalized support This study aims to identify clinically relevant, distinct subgroups of FI in Dutch community-dwelling older people and subsequently describe them according to individual characteristics. Results: One hundred fifty-three community-dwelling older persons were included for participation. Cluster analysis identified four distinctive clusters: (1) Performers – Well-informed; this subgroup is physically strong, well-informed and educated, independent, non-falling, with limited reflective coping style. (2) Performers – Achievers: physically strong people with a limited coping style and health literacy level. (3) The reliant- Good Coper representing physically somewhat limited people with sufficient coping styles who receive professional help. (4) The reliant – Receivers: physically limited people with insufficient coping styles who receive professional help. These subgroups showed significant differences in demographic characteristics and clinical FI outcomes. Conclusions: Community-dwelling older persons can be allocated to four distinct and clinically relevant subgroups based on their level of FI. This subgrouping provides insight into the complex holistic concept of FI by pointing out for each subgroup which FI domain is affected. This way, it helps to better target interventions to prevent the decline of FI in the community-dwelling older population.

Original languageEnglish
Article number996
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Functional independence
  • Older persons
  • Subgrouping


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