Background: Community-dwelling older people aged 65+ years sustain falls frequently; these can result in physical injuries necessitating medical attention including emergency department care and hospitalisation. Certain health conditions and impairments have been shown to contribute independently to the risk of falling or experiencing a fall injury, suggesting that individuals with these conditions or impairments should be the focus of falls prevention. Since older people commonly have multiple conditions/impairments, knowledge about which conditions/impairments coexist in at-risk individuals would be valuable in the implementation of a targeted prevention approach. The objective of this study was therefore to examine the prevalence and patterns of comorbidity in this population group.
Methods: We analysed hospitalisation data from Victoria, Australia's second most populous state, to estimate the prevalence of comorbidity in patients hospitalised at least once between 2005-6 and 2007-8 for treatment of acute fall-related injuries. In patients with two or more comorbid conditions (multicomorbidity) we used an agglomerative hierarchical clustering method to cluster comorbidity variables and identify constellations of conditions.
Results: More than one in four patients had at least one comorbid condition and among patients with comorbidity one in three had multicomorbidity (range 2-7). The prevalence of comorbidity varied by gender, age group, ethnicity and injury type; it was also associated with a significant increase in the average cumulative length of stay per patient. The cluster analysis identified five distinct, biologically plausible clusters of comorbidity: cardiopulmonary/metabolic, neurological, sensory, stroke and cancer. The cardiopulmonary/metabolic cluster was the largest cluster among the clusters identified.
Conclusions: The consequences of comorbidity clustering in terms of falls and/or injury outcomes of hospitalised patients should be investigated by future studies. Our findings have particular relevance for falls prevention strategies, clinical practice and planning of follow-up services for these patients.