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OBJECTIVES: To study the epidemiology of gait disorders in community-residing older adults and their association with death and institutionalization.

DESIGN: Community-based cohort study.

SETTING: Bronx County and the research center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

PARTICIPANTS: The Einstein Aging study recruited 488 adults aged 70 to 99 between 1999 and 2001. At entry and during annual visits over 5 years, subjects received clinical evaluations to determine presence of neurological or nonneurological gait abnormalities.

MEASUREMENTS: Prevalence and incidence of gait disorders based on clinical evaluations and time to institutionalization and death.

RESULTS: Of 468 subjects (95.9%) with baseline gait evaluations, 168 had abnormal gaits: 70 neurological, 81 nonneurological, and 17 both. Prevalence of abnormal gait was 35.0% (95% confidence interval (CI)=28.6-42.1). Incidence of abnormal gait was 168.6 per 1,000 person-years (95% CI=117.4-242.0) and increased with age. Men had a higher incidence of neurological gait abnormalities, whereas women had a higher incidence of nonneurological gaits. Abnormal gaits were associated with greater risk of institutionalization and death (hazard ratio (HR)=2.2, 95% CI=1.5-3.2). The risk was strongly related to severity of impairment; subjects with moderate to severe gait abnormalities (HR=3.2, 95% CI=1.9-5.2) were at higher risk than those with mild gait abnormalities (HR=1.8, 95% CI=1.0-2.8).

CONCLUSION: The incidence and prevalence of gait disorders are high in community-residing older adults and are associated with greater risk of institutionalization and death.

(C) 2006 by the American Geriatrics Society