Interventions for preventing falls in elderly people

L D Gillespie, W J Gillespie, M C Robertson, S E Lamb, R G Cumming, B H Rowe
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2001, (3): CD000340

BACKGROUND: Approximately 30 per cent of people over 65 years of age and living in the community fall each year; the number is higher in institutions. Although less than one fall in 10 results in a fracture, a fifth of fall incidents require medical attention.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of interventions designed to reduce the incidence of falls in elderly people (living in the community, or in institutional or hospital care).

SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Group specialised register (January 2001), Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (The Cochrane Library, Issue 1, 2001), MEDLINE (1966 to February 2001), EMBASE (1988 to 2001 Week 14), CINAHL (1982 to March 2001), The National Research Register, Issue 1, 2001, Current Controlled Trials ( accessed 25 May 2001), and reference lists of articles. We also contacted researchers in the field.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised trials of interventions designed to minimise the effect of, or exposure to, risk factors for falling in elderly people. Main outcomes of interest were the number of fallers, or falls. Trials reporting only intermediate outcomes were excluded.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two reviewers independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. Data were pooled using the fixed effect model where appropriate.

MAIN RESULTS: Interventions likely to be beneficial: ~bullet~A programme of muscle strengthening and balance retraining, individually prescribed at home by a trained health professional (3 trials, 566 participants, pooled relative risk (RR) 0.80, 95% confidence interval (95%CI) 0.66 to 0.98). ~bullet~A 15 week Tai Chi group exercise intervention (1 trial, 200 participants, risk ratio 0.51, 95%CI 0.36 to 0.73). ~bullet~Home hazard assessment and modification that is professionally prescribed for older people with a history of falling (1 trial, 530 participants, RR 0.64, 95% CI 0.49 to 0.84). A reduction in falls was seen both inside and outside the home. ~bullet~Withdrawal of psychotropic medication (1 trial, 93 participants, relative hazard 0.34, 95%CI 0.16 to 0.74). ~bullet~Multidisciplinary, multifactorial, health/environmental risk factor screening/intervention programmes, both for unselected community dwelling older people (data pooled from 3 trials, 1973 participants, pooled RR 0.73, 95%CI 0.63 to 0.86), and for older people with a history of falling, or selected because of known risk factors (data pooled from 2 trials, 713 participants, pooled RR 0.79, 95%CI 0.67 to 0.94). Interventions of unknown effectiveness: ~bullet~Group-delivered exercise interventions (9 trials, 2177 participants). ~bullet~Nutritional supplementation (1 trial, 50 participants). ~bullet~Vitamin D supplementation, with or without calcium (3 trials, 679 participants). ~bullet~Home hazard modification in association with advice on optimising medication (1 trial, 658 participants), or in association with an education package on exercise and reducing fall risk (1 trial, 3182 participants). ~bullet~Pharmacological therapy (raubasine-dihydroergocristine, 1 trial, 95 participants). ~bullet~Fall prevention programmes in institutional settings. ~bullet~Interventions using a cognitive/behavioural approach alone (2 trials, 145 participants). ~bullet~Home hazard modification for older people without a history of falling (1 trial, 530 participants). ~bullet~ Hormone replacement therapy (1 trial, 116 participants). Interventions unlikely to be beneficial: ~bullet~Brisk walking in women with an upper limb fracture in the previous two years (1 trial, 165 participants).

REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Interventions to prevent falls that are likely to be effective are now available; less is known about their effectiveness in preventing fall-related injuries. Costs per fall prevented have been established for four of the interventions and careful economic modelling in the context of the local healthcare system is important. Some potential interventions are of unknown effectiveness and further research is indicated.

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