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Understanding the Relationship Between Walking Aids and Falls in Older Adults: A Prospective Cohort Study

Roman de Mettelinge, Tine PT, PhD; Cambier, Dirk PT, PhD

Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy: July/September 2015 - Volume 38 - Issue 3 - p 127–132
doi: 10.1519/JPT.0000000000000031
Research Reports

Background: A substantial proportion of older adults living in residential aged care facilities are use wheelchairs or walk with aids. The relationship between using walking aids and falling is somewhat inconsistent and poorly understood.

Purpose: To investigate the use of walking aids as a risk factor for future falls among older adults living in residential aged care facilities and to identify spatiotemporal gait parameters that mediate the potential relationship between walking aids and falling.

Methods: Forty-three older adults (22 using walking aids and 21 not using walking aids) living in residential aged care facilities were enrolled in this study. Fall history, fear of falling, and the use of psychotropic agents were registered. Spatiotemporal gait (GAITRite®), grip strength (Jamar®), and cognitive status (Mini-Mental State Examination and Clock Drawing Test) were assessed. Falls were prospectively recorded during a 12-month follow-up period using monthly calendars.

Results: Individuals using walking aids were older (P = .012), had a greater fear of falling (P = .017), and demonstrated a more conservative gait pattern compared with those not using walking aids. They walked slower (P < .001) and had a lower cadence (P < .001) and shorter step length (P = .018) and step time (P = .003). Twenty-two participants (15 using walking aids vs 7 not using walking aids) reported at least one fall (“fallers”). Univariate logistic regression identified using walking aids as a risk factor for future falls (odds ratio, 3.98; 95% confidence interval, 1.10-14.37; P = .035). A lower cadence, increased stance percentage, decreased swing percentage, increased age, and greater psychotropic drug intake were mediators that reduced the odds ratio of the relationship between using walking aids and faller status the most.

Conclusions: Using walking aids is a risk factor for future falls among the older population living in residential settings. A substantial proportion of the relationship between walking aids and future falls could be explained by an altered spatiotemporal gait pattern, increased age, and psychotropic drug intake. This finding supports the aim of extensive training periods and appropriate instructions on the proper use of walking aids in terms of adequate and safe gait patterns.

Department of Rehabilitation Sciences and Physiotherapy, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.

Address correspondence to: Tine Roman de Mettelinge, PT, PhD, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences and Physiotherapy, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, 185 De Pintelaan, 9000 Ghent, Belgium (Tine.RomandeMettelinge@Ugent.be).

This study was funded by Special Research Fund, Bijzonder Onderzoeks Fonds, of the Ghent University [05v00608].

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Kevin Chui was the Decision Editor.

© 2015 Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy, APTA