Sneaker-Wearing Seniors Less Likely to Fall
Older people can reduce their risk of falling by wearing sneakers or athletic shoes, according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2004;52:1495–501). Each year, approximately one-third of elderly people living in communities are injured by falling. Injuries from falling can include sprains and strains; hip, wrist, or other fractures; or head trauma.
Many factors, such as strength, agility, and health status, can affect a person’s risk of falling, and footwear has been suspected to affect it as well. Laboratory testing with healthy volunteers has suggested that cowboy boots and high heels can interfere with stability. Though athletic shoes were also found in the laboratory setting to decrease stability, their actual influence on risk of falling in the elderly under ordinary conditions had not been examined previously.
In the current study, 1,371 people over age 65 were monitored for falls during a two-year period. To be included, participants needed to not have dementia and to be able to walk. Falls were counted if they were unintentional, were not associated with being pushed or hit, and no unconsciousness occurred just before the fall. Falls that occurred while using sports equipment, walkers, or other devices were not counted. Each person who fell during the study was matched to a person of the same age and gender who had not fallen (control). Activity, footwear, and other circumstances around the fall were recorded. People acting as controls answered questions about their circumstances and footwear during similar activities.
The risk of falling was found to be highest while barefoot or wearing only socks. Wearing athletic or canvas shoes (sneakers) was associated with a lower risk of falling than wearing other shoes. Risk of falling while wearing loafers or lace-up oxfords was 30 to 50% higher than while wearing sneakers. Although the number of people in the study who wore high heels was small, it did appear that their risk of falling was about twice that of people wearing sneakers. Not wearing shoes was 8 to 11 times riskier than wearing sneakers.
The results of this study suggest that older people can reduce their likelihood of falling by wearing athletic shoes or sneakers. Most of the people who fell (89%) in this study were either walking outdoors, indoors, or up or down stairs. For this reason, it might be wise for healthcare professionals to counsel people at risk of falling to consider wearing sneakers even while engaging in simple, nonvigorous activities in and near the house. Furthermore, because the risk of falling was so great while not wearing any shoes, elderly people who cannot or do not want to wear sneakers should at least be encouraged to wear some type of shoes as much of their waking time as possible.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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