Background: Hospitalized frail older patients are usually assessed for their ability to perform some daily living activities in a clinical setting prior to discharge. However, assessments that take place in this unfamiliar environment might not be as representative of their functional performance as assessments at home. This may be related to a decline in some cognitive components, such as executive functions (EF), which enable one to cope with new environments. This study thus aims to compare cooking task performance in familiar and unfamiliar settings in a population of frail older adults with poor and preserved EF.
Methods: Thirty-seven frail older adults were assigned to one of two groups: poor EF or preserved EF. Participants performed two cooking tasks in familiar and unfamiliar settings, using a counterbalanced design. Their performance was assessed with a reliable tool based on observation of motor and process skills (Assessment of Motor and Process Skills).
Results: Thirty-three participants were retained for analysis. They demonstrated significantly better motor skills (F = 5.536; p = 0.025) and process skills (F = 8.149; p = 0.008) in the familiar setting. The difference between settings was particularly marked for process skills in participants with poor EF (F = 16.920; p < 0.001).
Conclusions: This study suggests that a home setting may be preferable for a more accurate assessment of cooking task performance in frail older adults, especially those with poor EF. These findings highlight the risk of underestimating frail older adults’ performance when assessed in an unfamiliar setting (e.g. hospital), which could lead to inefficient allocation of home care services.