A new study shows that when walking for utilitarian purposes, such as shopping and appointments, older adults are at an increased risk of falling than when walking for recreation. Wenjun Li, PhD, lead author of the study, says, “Older adults have two times the risk of falling while walking out of necessity than walking for recreation, and four times greater risk of injury from a fall on a sidewalk than in a recreational area.” For the study, Li and co-authors investigated the association between the walking habits of older adults, the socioeconomic status of their neighborhoods, and the occurrence of outdoor falls.

The researchers used data from the Maintenance of Balance, Independent Living, Intellect and Zest in the Elderly of Boston Study which measured multiple attributes that might impact an individual’s risk of falling. The team found that older adults in poorer neighborhoods do more walking for appointments or errands and experience higher rates of falls on sidewalks, curbs, and streets, according to a news release from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The results of the study revealed that falls on streets and sidewalks were more likely to result in an injury than were falls in recreational areas. Li says, “These differences were not explained by individual factors such as an elder’s health, leading us to conclude the environment may play a significant role. Further research will explore how elders interact with their environment and how to make neighborhoods safer for utilitarian walking.”

Madeleine Biondolillo, MD, co-author of the study, states, “This study will further inform our ongoing work to prevent falls among older adults.”

Li and the authors from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) note, “Improving the safety of walking environments in areas where older adults shop and do other errands of necessity is an important component of fall prevention.”

Source: University of Massachusetts Medical School