Background: The association between unexplained falls and cardiovascular causes is increasingly recognized. Neurally mediated cardiovascular disorders and hypotensive syndromes are found in almost 20 percent of the patients with unexplained falls. However, the approach to these patients remains unclear. Gait assessment might be an interesting approach to these patients as clinical observations suggests that those with cardiovascular or hypotensive causes may not manifest obvious gait alterations. Our primary objective is to analyze the association between gait disorders and a non-cardiovascular cause of falls in patients with unexplained falls. A second objective is to test the sensitivity and specificity of a gait assessment approach for detecting non-cardiovascular causes when compared with intrinsic-extrinsic classification.
Methods: Cross-sectional study performed in a falls clinic at a university hospital in 41 ambulatory elderly participants with unexplained falls. Neurally mediated cardiovascular conditions, neurological diseases, gait and balance problems were assessed. Gait disorder was defined as a gait velocity < 0.8 m/s or Tinetti Gait Score < 9. An attributable etiology of the fall was determined in each participant. Comparisons between the gait assessment approach and the attributable etiology regarding a neurally mediated cardiovascular cause were performed. Fisher exact test was used to test the association hypothesis. Sensitivity and specificity of gait assessment approach and intrinsic-extrinsic classification to detect a non-cardiovascular mediated fall was calculated with 95% confidence intervals (CI95%).
Results: A cardiovascular etiology (orthostatic and postprandial hypotension, vasovagal syndrome and carotid sinus hypersensitivity) was identified in 14% of participants (6/41). Of 35 patients with a gait disorder, 34 had a non-cardiovascular etiology of fall; whereas in 5 out of 6 patients without a gait disorder, a cardiovascular diagnosis was identified (p < 0.001). Sensitivity and specificity of the presence of gait disorder for identifying a non-cardiovascular mediated cause was 97.1% (CI95% = 85-99) and 83% (CI95% = 36-99), respectively.
Conclusion: In community dwelling older persons with unexplained falls, gait disorders were associated with non-cardiovascular diagnosis of falls. Gait assessment was a useful approach for the detection of a non-cardiovascular mediated cause of falls, providing additional value to this assessment.