Is a fall just a fall: correlates of falling in healthy older persons. The Health, Aging and Body Composition Study

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2003 Jun;51(6):841-6. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2389.2003.51267.x.


Objectives: To identify factors associated with falling in well-functioning older people.

Design: Cross-sectional analyses of report of falls over the past 12 months using baseline data from the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study.

Setting: Clinic examinations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or Memphis, Tennessee.

Participants: Three thousand seventy-five high-functioning black and white elderly aged 70 to 79 living in the community.

Measurements: Physical function assessed using self-report and performance measures. Health status indicators included diseases, medication use, and body composition measures.

Results: Almost one-quarter (24.1%) of women and 18.3% of men reported at least one fall within the year before the baseline examination. Fallers were more likely to be female; white; report more chronic diseases and medications; and have lower leg strength, poorer balance, slower 400-meter walk time, and lower muscle mass. In men, multivariate logistic regression models showed white race (adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 1.4, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.2-1.6), slower 6-meter walk speed (OR = 1.1, 95% CI = 1.0-1.3), poor standing balance (OR = 1.2, 95% CI = 1.0-1.4), inability to do 5 chair stands (OR = 1.7, 95% CI = 1.3-1.9), report of urinary incontinence (UI) (OR = 1.5, 95% CI = 1.1-2.0), and mid-quintile of leg muscle strength (OR = 0.6, 95% CI = 0.4-0.9) to be independently associated with report of falling. In women, benzodiazepine use (OR = 1.6, 95% CI = 1.0-2.6), UI (OR = 1.5, 95% CI = 1.2-1.9), and reported difficulty in rising from a chair (OR = 1.4, 95% CI = 1.2-1.6) were associated with past falls.

Conclusion: Falls history needs to be screened in healthier older adults. Even for well-functioning older persons, specific correlates of falling can be identified to define those at risk.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls*
  • Aged / physiology*
  • Anthropometry
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Physiological Phenomena*
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Assessment
  • Walking