Risk factors and risk assessment tools for falls in hospital in-patients: a systematic review

Age Ageing. 2004 Mar;33(2):122-30. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afh017.


Objective: To identify all published papers on risk factors and risk assessment tools for falls in hospital inpatients. To identify clinical risk assessment tools or individual clinical risk factors predictive of falls, with the ultimate aim of informing the design of effective fall prevention strategies.

Design: Systematic literature review (Cochrane methodology). Independent assessment of quality against agreed criteria. Calculation of odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals for risk factors and of sensitivity, specificity, negative and positive predictive value for risk assessment tools (with odds ratios and confidence intervals), where published data sufficient.

Results: 28 papers on risk factors were identified, with 15 excluded from further analysis. Despite the identification of 47 papers purporting to describe falls risk assessment tools, only six papers were identified where risk assessment tools had been subjected to prospective validation, and only two where validation had been performed in two or more patient cohorts.

Conclusions: A small number of significant falls risk factors emerged consistently, despite the heterogeneity of settings namely gait instability, agitated confusion, urinary incontinence/frequency, falls history and prescription of 'culprit' drugs (especially sedative/hypnotics). Simple risk assessment tools constructed of similar variables have been shown to predict falls with sensitivity and specificity in excess of 70%, although validation in a variety of settings and in routine clinical use is lacking. Effective falls interventions in this population may require the use of better-validated risk assessment tools, or alternatively, attention to common reversible falls risk factors in all patients.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control
  • Accidental Falls / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitals / standards
  • Hospitals / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Inpatients / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk Management*