Greater Fall Risk in Elderly Women Than in Men Is Associated With Increased Gait Variability During Multitasking



      As 90% of fractures are caused by falls, and as fractures are more common in elderly women than in elderly men, a better understanding of potential sex differences in fall rates and underlying mechanisms is needed. The purpose of this study was to determine whether women are more prone than men to falling, and to evaluate whether the risk of falling is associated with variations in gait patterns.

      Design, setting, and participants

      The cohort for this prospective observational study consisted of 1390 community-dwelling men and women aged 70 years, examined in a health survey between July 2012 and November 2014.


      Gait patterns were measured using a computerized walkway system during normal-speed, fast-speed, and dual-task trials. Triaxial accelerometers were used to collect objective data on physical activity, and self-reported fall data were collected by telephone 6 and 12 months after examination. Incident low-energy falls were defined as unexpected events in which participants came to rest on the ground.


      During the follow-up period, 148 study participants (88 women, 60 men; P = .01) reported falls. After adjusting for multiple confounders, including objective measures of physical activity, socioeconomic factors, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive function, the odds ratio for falling in women was 1.49 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.02–2.19). Variations in gait pattern were significantly (20%–40%) increased in fallers compared with nonfallers during the dual-task trial for step width, step length, stride length, step time, stance time, stride velocity, and single support time (all P < .05). Furthermore, women showed 15% to 35% increased variability in all of these gait parameters during the dual-task trial compared with men (all P < .01).


      In the present cohort, 70-year-old women were at greater risk of falls compared with their male counterparts. This increased risk was associated with increased variation in gait pattern during dual-task activities, and may contribute to women's greater fracture risk compared with men.


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