Objectives: To evaluate and summarize the evidence linking balance impairment as a risk factor for falls in community-dwelling older adults.
Study design and setting: Systematic review and meta-analysis. English language articles in MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL (1988-2009), under keywords of accidental falls, aged, risk factors, and hip, radius, ulna, and humerus fractures; and bibliographies of retrieved articles. Community-dwelling older adults in a prospective study, at least 1-year duration, age more than 60 years, and samples not specific to a single disease-defined population were included. Sample size, inclusion/exclusion criteria, demographics, clinical balance measurement scale, type of fall outcome, method of fall ascertainment, length of follow-up, and odds ratio (OR) or risk ratio (RR) were extracted. Studies must have reported adjustment for confounders. Random effects meta-analysis to generate summary risk estimate was used. A priori evaluation of sources of heterogeneity was performed.
Results: Twenty-three studies met the selection criteria. A single summary measure could not be calculated because of the nonequivalence of the OR and RR, producing an overall fall risk of RR of 1.42 (1.08, 1.85) and OR of 1.98 (1.60, 2.46).
Conclusions: Balance impairment imparts a moderate increase on fall risk in community-dwelling older adults. The type of fall outcome, the length of follow-up, and the balance measurement tool impact the magnitude of the association. Specific balance measurement scales were identified with associations for an increased fall risk, but further research is required to refine recommendations for their use in clinical practice.
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