OBJECTIVES: To investigate the relationship between foot problems, balance, and functional ability in community-dwelling older people and to determine whether older people with a history of multiple falls exhibit greater foot impairment than those who have not fallen or who have fallen once only.
DESIGN: A cross-sectional, retrospective study.
SETTING: Falls and Balance Laboratory, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia.
PARTICIPANTS: One hundred thirty-five community-dwelling men and women age 75 to 93 (mean age ± standard deviation, 79.8 ± 4.1).
MEASURES: Foot problem score; postural sway; coordinated stability; stair ascent and descent; an alternate stepping test; timed 6-meter walk; and tests of vision, sensation, strength, and reaction time.
RESULTS: Eighty-seven percent of the sample had at least one foot problem. Women had a significantly higher foot problem score than did men. The foot problem score was significantly associated with performance on the coordinated stability test, stair ascent and descent, alternate stepping test, and timed 6-meter walk. Multiple regression analyses revealed that the foot problem score was a significant independent predictor of performance in the coordinated stability test, stair ascent and descent, and the alternate stepping test. Subjects with a history of multiple falls had a significantly higher foot problem score than did those who had not fallen or who had fallen once only, but the prevalence of individual foot conditions or the presence of foot pain did not differ between these groups.
CONCLUSIONS: Foot problems are common in older people and are associated with impaired balance and performance in functional tests. Furthermore, older people with a history of multiple falls have greater foot impairment than non- or once-only fallers. These findings provide further evidence that foot problems are a falls risk factor and suggest that the cumulative effect of multiple foot problems is more important in increasing falls risk than the presence or absence of individual foot conditions.