falls in seniors

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Each year, one out of every three older adults (ages 65 and over) fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For patients with type 2 diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, up to 50% of these seniors have a fall-related incident. Falls in older adults are responsible for moderate to severe injuries including hip fractures and head traumas. Also, falls can increase a senior’s risk of early death.

However, recent research by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has shown that step width, step length, and the ratio between the two may help to predict falls in older adults with and without diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy

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Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage that causes tingling, numbness, loss of sensation, weakness, or burning pain in your feet, legs or hands. In adults with diabetes, peripheral neuropathy is caused by chronically high blood sugar. Up to 70% of people with diabetes will eventually develop peripheral neuropathy, although not everyone has pain.

Predicting Falls

According to the University of Michigan study, researchers assessed 27 people (aged 50 to 85 years) with and without diabetic peripheral neuropathy to determine how they walked on smooth and uneven surfaces. During the following year, almost 63% of the individuals had fallen. Of these people, 44% of them sustained a fall-related injury. All but one of the older adults with peripheral neuropathy had fallen.

When the researchers compared the fallers with the non-fallers, they found that the fallers:

  • Walk at a slower speed.
  • Had a greater step width. Step width is the distance between the outer most borders of the two consecutive footprints.
  • Had a shorter step length. Step length is the distance between the heel of one footprint to the heel of the opposite footprint as you walk. According to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, a man’s average step length is about 31 inches while a woman’s step is about 26 inches.
  • Had a greater step width to step length ratio.

Researchers discovered that the step-width to step-length ratio when walking on an uneven surface was the greatest predictor as to whether someone would fall and sustain a fall-related injury.

The study data suggest that older adults with diabetes and peripheral neuropathy who have an increased risk of falls tend to walk slower with less efficiency when walking uneven surfaces in order to maintain stability.

ezWalker® Custom Orthotics Provide Increased Stability

Falls in older adults are a serious matter. One thing you can do to help prevent falls is to wear custom foot orthotics if you suffer from painful foot conditions that alter the way in which you walk. Also if you overpronate (your foot rolls inward when walking) or supinate (your foot rolls outward when walking), custom orthotics like ezWalker® Custom Fit Orthotics can help realign your gait for better control throughout the gait cycle. Additionally, ezWalker® Custom Orthotics provide you with greater stability and balance – reducing the occurrence of falls.

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Disclaimer: The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.