Gait and balance disorders are common in older adults and are a major cause of falls in this population. They are associated with increased morbidity and mortality, as well as reduced level of function. Common causes include arthritis and orthostatic hypotension; however, most gait and balance disorders involve multiple contributing factors. Most changes in gait are related to underlying medical conditions and should not be considered an inevitable consequence of aging. Physicians caring for older patients should ask at least annually about falls, and should ask about or examine for difficulties with gait and balance at least once. For older adults who report a fall, physicians should ask about difficulties with gait and balance, and should observe for any gait or balance dysfunctions. The Timed Up and Go test is a fast and reliable diagnostic tool. Persons who have difficulty or demonstrate unsteadiness performing the Timed Up and Go test require further assessment, usually with a physical therapist, to help elucidate gait impairments and related functional limitations. The most effective strategy for falls prevention involves a multifactorial evaluation followed by targeted interventions for identified contributing factors. Evidence on the effectiveness of interventions for gait and balance disorders is limited because of the lack of standardized outcome measures determining gait and balance abilities. However, effective options for patients with gait and balance disorders include exercise and physical therapy.
Gait and balance disorders are among the most common causes of falls in older adults and often lead to injury, disability, loss of independence, and limited quality of life. Gait and balance disorders are usually multifactorial in origin and require a comprehensive assessment to determine contributing factors and targeted interventions. Most changes in gait that occur in older adults are related to underlying medical conditions, particularly as conditions increase in severity, and should not be viewed as merely an inevitable consequence of aging. Early identification of gait and balance disorders and appropriate intervention may prevent dysfunction and loss of independence.