To determine the extent to which genetic and environmental factors contribute to individual and gender differences in aging of functional ability.
Twenty assessments of functional ability are collected as part of the longitudinal Swedish Adoption/Twin Study of Aging from 859 twins aged 50-88 at the first wave. Participants completed up to 6 assessments covering a 19-year period. Factor analysis was used to create 3 factors: flexibility, fine motor skills, and balance.
Latent growth curve analysis demonstrated increasing disability and variability after age 70. For flexibility, results indicated significant sex differences in mean change trajectories but no sex differences in components of variance. No sex differences were found for fine motor movement. For balance, there were no sex differences in mean change trajectories; however, there was significant genetic variance for changes in balance in women after age 70 but not for men.
Although idiosyncratic environmental influences account for a large part of increasing variance, correlated and shared rearing environmental effects were also evident. Thus, both microenvironmental (individual) and macroenvironmental (family and cultural) effects, as well as genetic factors, affect maintenance of functional ability in late adulthood.