Researchers conduct study to reduce falls through podiatry treatments

30 March 2017

Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) are conducting a study to find the most effective podiatry approaches for reducing falls among older people.

Falls in older people are a major public health problem, with at least one in three people aged over 65 falling each year. The incidence of care homes falls is around three times that of falls in the community. There is also increasing evidence that foot problems and inappropriate footwear increase the risk of falls.

Many elderly people have a foot problem which affects mobility and balance, increasing the risk of falls. These can include bunions and nail problems, musculoskeletal problems, joint function problems and poorly fitting footwear affecting posture, balance and stability.

As a result, podiatry has an important role to play in falls prevention by diagnosing podiatry related risk factors which could contribute to falls, and prescribing appropriate tailored insoles, foot and ankle exercises and footwear.

Dr Jacqui Morris, of GCU’s Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions (NMAHP) Research Unit, is leading a systematic review, funded by the Chief Scientist Office (CSO) which funds research and development in NHS Scotland, of published studies that examine the effects of podiatry treatments on falls in older people.

Dr Morris said: “This is an important piece of work which recognises the important role that podiatrists can play in reducing falls in elderly care home residents. The work will prepare the way for a funding application for a large trial to test an intervention that is easily implementable in care homes, but that potentially has a large impact on the quality of life for elderly residents. The review will ensure that the intervention is based on the most up to date research evidence.”

Working with GCU’s Dr Pauline Campbell and researchers from the Universities of Dundee and Stirling, Dr Morris will find out whether strategies delivered by podiatrists to improve foot health, strength and comfort are beneficial.

The study will combine the findings of the review to understand what the best podiatry approaches are for reducing falls, and to compile important questions about what should be addressed in future studies, particularly in relation to falls in care homes.

The study follows a CSO-funded trial, which Dr Morris jointly led with Gavin Wylie, a podiatry researcher in NHS Tayside, which found that podiatry interventions did reduce falls among care home residents.

Dr Morris is a physiotherapist by professional background and has worked in a clinical academic role as a senior research fellow in the Social Dimensions of Health Institute at Dundee University, and as Research Lead for the Allied Health Professions in NHS Tayside.