Use of walking aids is increasing as population ages; study debunks notion that using them makes falls more likely

In the last 10 years, the use of walking aids—such as canes, wheelchairs and scooters—has increased by half, and is expected to grow as the number of seniors doubles in the next 35 years.

Research has shown a correlation between use of walking aids and falling, which is the leading cause of death resulting from injury for people 65 and older. However, a recent study in National Health and Aging Trends shows that people who employ mobility devices are not more likely to fall than those who do not use such devices.

Previous research that indicated the use of walking aids might increase the likelihood of falling “only looked within groups of people . . . who are already more likely to fall,” said researcher Nancy Gell, assistant professor of rehabilitation and movement science at the University of Vermont. “This study is the most in-depth since 2004 and shows no link between mobility devices and falls as previously thought.”

Gell reports that 16.4 percent of seniors use a cane, 11.6 percent use walkers, 6.1 percent use wheelchairs and 2.3 use scooters. Those who use canes are more likely to say they refrain from certain activities because of the fear of falling. “For many people, a cane is the appropriate device for their circumstance to stay mobile,” Gell writes. “However, if worry about falling continues despite using a cane for support, it is worth considering a different device in order to be as active as possible.”

“The question is if it’s better to be active or sedentary and not risk falling,” Gell writes. “We think it’s better to be active.”

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