People who use canes may limit themselves for fear of falling

Wed May 13, 2015 12:58pm EDT
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By Kathryn Doyle

(Reuters Health) - One quarter of older Americans use mobility devices like canes, walkers or wheelchairs, according to a new study, but those who use a cane have a much greater fear of falling.

Cane users did not, in fact, fall more often, but they did report limiting their activities out of fear, suggesting the cane may not offer sufficient support for their needs, researchers say.

“Frequently, the reason for using a mobility device is also a risk factor for falling, for example impaired balance, weakness, or loss of sensation,” said lead author Nancy M. Gell of the University of Vermont department of rehabilitation and movement science in Burlington. “In this study we found, after adjusting for personal and health factors that those who use mobility devices do not appear to be at greater risk of falling,” Gell told Reuters Health by email.

Some past research has linked the use of canes and walkers to a higher risk of falls, although it’s not clear if that reflects a problem with the devices or the underlying condition that affects mobility to begin with. (See Reuters Health article of February 6, 2015, here:

Gell’s team found a higher rate of mobility device use than in past U.S. studies, she noted.

They looked at responses from a nationally representative sample of more than 7,000 U.S. adults over age 65 who were Medicare beneficiaries, and were interviewed in their homes for a National Health and Aging Trends study in 2011.

Participants answered questions about using canes, walkers, wheelchairs or scooters over the previous month and whether or not they had suffered a fall over the previous year. They were also asked if they worried about falling and if that worry limited their activities.

Twenty-four percent of the group reported using one of the devices, and nine percent said they had used more than one of the devices over the previous month, as reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.   Continued...