Going barefoot in home may contribute to falls among elderly: Study

Published on June 23, 2010 at 3:49 AM · 1 Comment

As summer rolls around, elderly people may want to think twice about taking their shoes off when they get home. Going barefoot in the home, or wearing slippers or socks with no shoes, may contribute to falls among the elderly, according to a new study from the Institute for Aging Research of Hebrew SeniorLife.

The study found that nearly 52 percent of the participants who reported a fall were either barefoot, wearing socks without shoes, or wearing slippers at the time of their fall. These people also reported more serious injuries, including fractures, sprains, dislocations, and pulled or torn muscles, ligaments or tendons, as a result of their fall.

"Our findings show that older people going barefoot, wearing only socks, or wearing slippers may be at considerably increased risk of falls in their homes," says senior author Marian T. Hannan, D.Sc., M.P.H., co-director of the Musculoskeletal Research Center at the Institute for Aging Research. "Therefore, older people should wear shoes at home whenever possible to minimize their risk of falling."

Study participants underwent a comprehensive baseline falls assessment, including a home visit and clinic examination. During the assessment, they were asked what type of shoe they usually wear. Options included athletic shoes (sneakers), flat-sole canvas shoes, oxfords or other tied shoes, loafers, sandals, pumps, slippers, socks or stockings only, or barefoot. Participants were followed for an average of 27.5 months and were asked to record each day whether they had fallen; those reporting falls were asked about the shoes they were wearing when they fell.

Of those who reported falling, more than 18 percent were barefoot when they fell. Nearly 27 percent were wearing slippers and 7 percent were wearing socks only.

The study, which will be published in the summer issue of the journal Footwear Science, is currently available online at www.tandf.co.uk/journals/TFWS.

"On the basis of this and other studies," says Dr. Hannan, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, "we suggest that advice about wearing shoes whenever possible be included in fall prevention programs. More research is needed on the design of acceptable and comfortable footwear that provides optimal safety for older people."

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  1. James, London James, London United Kingdom says:

    When (just over half of) elderly people fell over, they were barefoot, wearing just socks, or wearing slippers - therefore they fell over *because* they were barefoot, wearing socks or slippers?  Do you not need to show a greater degree of causality than that?

    And as it's a 52/48 split between 'barefoot/socks/slippers' compared with 'all other footwear' - it's not the most convincing evidence, is it?

    I bet many of them were wearing false teeth at the time of their fall - but their fall wasn't necessarily caused by them wearing false teeth.

    Wearing footwear with grips on the bottom is common sense and good advice - it doesn't need a spurious study with such wide generalisations established to draw these inferences, surely...?

    Maybe I should read the actual study - but surely if there were any more convincing evidence, they would have included that in the press release...

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