Objective: To determine whether a battery of 13 sensorimotor, vestibular, and visual tests discriminates between elderly fallers and elderly non-fallers.
Design: One-year prospective study.
Setting: Conducted at a 124-bed Hostel for Aged Persons, in Sydney, Australia.
Participants: Ninety-five persons aged between 59 and 97 years (mean age 82.7 years) took part in the study. Of the 29 non-participants, four were ill, five were absent (on holidays, etc), and 20 declined. Residents were generally independent in activities of daily living although personal care assistance was available.
Results: Eighty-four participants were available for follow-up. In the follow-up year, 40 subjects experienced no falls, 11 subjects fell one time only, 33 residents fell on two or more occasions. There was a total of 145 falls. Discriminant function analysis identified proprioception in the lower limbs visual contrast sensitivity, ankle dorsiflexion strength, reaction time, and sway with the eyes closed as the variables that significantly discriminated between subjects who experienced multiple falls and subjects who experienced no falls or one fall only. This procedure correctly classified 79% of subjects into multiple faller or non-multiple faller groups. Quadriceps strength was poorer in the multiple fallers compared with the non-fallers and once-only fallers, although the difference was not statistically significant. There was little difference in the mean scores for the tests of vestibular function in the non-fallers, once-only fallers, and multiple fallers.
Conclusion: It appears that this approach highlights some key physiological factors that predispose elderly individuals to falls.