Background/aims: Having dementia increases patients' risk for accidental falls. However, it is unknown if having mild cognitive deficits also elevates a person's risk for falls. This study sought to clarify the relationship between subtle cognitive impairment, measured with a widely-used, clinic-based assessment, the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE), and risk for falls.
Methods: In a secondary analysis of the Kenosha County Falls Prevention Study, a randomized controlled trial targeting older adults at risk for falls, we examined the association between baseline MMSE and prospective rate of falls over 12 months in 172 subjects randomized to control group.
Results: Using univariate analysis, the rate of falls increased with each unit decrease in MMSE score down to at least 22 (rate ratio 1.25, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.09-1.45, p = 0.0026). Using stepwise multivariate regression, controlling for ability to perform activities of daily living, use of assistive device, current exercise, and arthritis, the association between MMSE score and falls rate persisted (rate ratio 1.20, 95% CI 1.03-1.40, p = 0.021).
Conclusion: Minimal decrements on the MMSE were associated with elevations in rate of falls, suggesting that subtle cognitive deficits reflected in MMSE scores above a cut-off consistent with a diagnosis of dementia, can influence risk for falls.