Footwear style and risk of falls in older adults

Thomas D. Koepsell, Marsha E. Wolf, David M. Buchner, Walter A. Kukull, Andrea Z. LaCroix, Allan F. Tencer, Cara L. Frankenfeld, Milda Tautvydas, Eric B. Larson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


OBJECTIVES: To determine how the risk of a fall in an older adult varies in relation to style of footwear worn. DESIGN: Nested case-control study. SETTING: Group Health Cooperative, a large health maintenance organization in Washington state. PARTICIPANTS: A total of 1,371 adults aged 65 and older were monitored for falls over a 2-year period; 327 qualifying fall cases were compared with 327 controls matched on age and sex. MEASUREMENTS: Standardized in-person examinations before fall occurrence, interviews about fall risk factors after the fall occurred, and direct examination of footwear were conducted. Questions for controls referred to the last time they engaged in an activity broadly similar to what the case was doing at the time of the fall. RESULTS: Athletic and canvas shoes (sneakers) were the styles of footwear associated with lowest risk of a fall. Going barefoot or in stocking feet was associated with sharply increased risk, even after controlling for measures of health status (adjusted odds ratio = 11.2, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 2.4-51.8). Relative to athletic/canvas shoes, other footwear was associated with a 1.3-fold increase in the risk of a fall (95% CI = 0.9-1.9), varying somewhat by style. CONCLUSION: Contrary to findings from gait-laboratory studies, athletic shoes were associated with relatively low risk of a fall in older adults during everyday activities. Fall risk was markedly increased when participants were not wearing shoes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1495-1501
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2004


  • Elderly
  • Falls
  • Shoes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology

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    Koepsell, T. D., Wolf, M. E., Buchner, D. M., Kukull, W. A., LaCroix, A. Z., Tencer, A. F., Frankenfeld, C. L., Tautvydas, M., & Larson, E. B. (2004). Footwear style and risk of falls in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 52(9), 1495-1501.