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Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community

Gillespie LD, Robertson M, Gillespie WJ, Sherrington C, Gates S, Clemson LM, Lamb SE
Published Online: 
24 September 2013

As people get older, they may fall more often for a variety of reasons including problems with balance, poor vision, and dementia. Up to 30% may fall in a year. Although one in five falls may require medical attention, less than one in 10 results in a fracture.

This review looked at the healthcare literature to establish which fall prevention interventions are effective for older people living in the community, and included 159 randomised controlled trials with 79,193 participants.  

Group and home-based exercise programmes, usually containing some balance and strength training exercises, effectively reduced falls, as did Tai Chi. Overall, exercise programmes aimed at reducing falls appear to reduce fractures.

Multifactorial interventions assess an individual's risk of falling, and then carry out treatment or arrange referrals to reduce the identified risks. Overall, current evidence shows that this type of intervention reduces the number of falls in older people living in the community but not the number of people falling during follow-up. These are complex interventions, and their effectiveness may be dependent on factors yet to be determined.  

Interventions to improve home safety appear to be effective, especially in people at higher risk of falling and when carried out by occupational therapists. An anti-slip shoe device worn in icy conditions can also reduce falls.

Taking vitamin D supplements does not appear to reduce falls in most community-dwelling older people, but may do so in those who have lower vitamin D levels in the blood before treatment.  

Some medications increase the risk of falling. Three trials in this review failed to reduce the number of falls by reviewing and adjusting medications. A fourth trial involving family physicians and their patients in medication review was effective in reducing falls. Gradual withdrawal of a particular type of drug for improving sleep, reducing anxiety, and treating depression (psychotropic medication) has been shown to reduce falls.

Cataract surgery reduces falls in women having the operation on the first affected eye. Insertion of a pacemaker can reduce falls in people with frequent falls associated with carotid sinus hypersensitivity, a condition which causes sudden changes in heart rate and blood pressure.

In people with disabling foot pain, the addition of footwear assessment, customised insoles, and foot and ankle exercises to regular podiatry reduced the number of falls but not the number of people falling.

The evidence relating to the provision of educational materials alone for preventing falls is inconclusive.

This record should be cited as: 
Gillespie LD, Robertson M, Gillespie WJ, Sherrington C, Gates S, Clemson LM, Lamb SE. Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD007146. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007146.pub3
Assessed as up to date: 
1 March 2012