The association between the number of prescription medications and incident falls in a multi-ethnic population of adult type-2 diabetes patients: the diabetes and aging study

J Gen Intern Med. 2010 Feb;25(2):141-6. doi: 10.1007/s11606-009-1179-2. Epub 2009 Dec 5.


Background: Use of four or more prescription medications is considered a risk factor for falls in older people. It is unclear whether this polypharmacy-fall relationship differs for adults with diabetes.

Objective: We evaluated the association between number of prescription medications and incident falls in a multi-ethnic population of type-2 diabetes patients in order to establish an evidence-based medication threshold for fall risk in diabetes.

Design: Baseline survey (1994-1997) with 5 years of longitudinal follow-up.

Participants: Eligible subjects (N = 46,946) had type-2 diabetes, were >or=18 years old, and enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Diabetes Registry.

Measurements and main results: We identified clinically recognized incident falls based on diagnostic codes (ICD-9 codes: E880-E888). Relative to regimens of 0-1 medications, regimens including 4 or more prescription medications were significantly associated with an increased risk of falls [4-5 medications adjusted HR 1.22 (1.04, 1.43), 6-7 medications 1.33 (1.12, 1.58), >7 medications 1.59 (1.34, 1.89)]. None of the individual glucose-lowering medications was found to be significantly associated with a higher risk of falls in predictive models.

Conclusions: The prescription of four or more medications was associated with an increased risk of falls among adult diabetes patients, while no specific glucose-lowering agent was linked to increased risk. Baseline risk of falls and number of baseline medications are additional factors to consider when deciding whether to intensify diabetes treatments.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / ethnology*
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Ethnicity / ethnology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polypharmacy*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult