60-Second Science

Elderly Should Avoid Walking under the Influence

Subjects with an average age of 62 had trouble avoiding an obstacle placed on a treadmill after consuming even small amounts of alcohol. Cynthia Graber reports

A significant cause of disability in older Americans is, simply, falling. If you’re a senior citizen and you worry about falling, maybe you should go light on the drinks. It turns out that only two drinks—within the legal driving limit—can make it more difficult for older folks to walk. The research was published in the journal BMC Research Notes. [Judith Hegeman et al., Even low alcohol concentrations affect obstacle avoidance reactions in healthy senior individuals]

Researchers in the Netherlands tested whether drinking a moderate amount affects a senior’s ability to bypass obstacles while walking. Because an inability to avoid obstacles is associated with a higher risk of falling.

Thirteen healthy men and women, averaging 62 years old, walked on a treadmill. Then the researchers placed a thin wooden block on the treadmill headed towards them. The volunteers had to step over the block.

After only two drinks, the subjects moved more slowly, didn’t lift their legs as high, and were twice as likely to hit those blocks. The scientists say this result shows that even moderate drinking seriously affects gait – and, they extrapolate, could increase the risk of falling. They add that despite the small study size, the effects were unequivocal. So don’t drink and drive. And if you’re older, think twice about drinking and walking.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]


Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Starting Thanksgiving

Enter code: HOLIDAY 2015
at checkout

Get 20% off now! >


Email this Article