The relationship between executive function and falls and gait abnormalities in older adults: a systematic review

Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2013;36(1-2):20-35. doi: 10.1159/000350031. Epub 2013 May 23.


Background/objectives: Older adults with dementia have at least a twofold increased risk of falls. Multi-factorial interventions have failed to demonstrate a reduction in falls in this group. Improved understanding of specific cognitive factors and their relationship to gait, balance and falls is required.

Methods: Systematic searches of Medline, Embase, PsycInfo, and CINAHL databases from inception to April 2011 were conducted to identify prospective studies in older adults examining executive function and its relationship with falls, balance and gait abnormalities. Two independent reviewers extracted data on study populations, executive function measures and study outcomes.

Results: Of 8,985 abstracts identified, 14 studies met inclusion criteria. Eleven studies examined executive function and falls. The remaining studies examined executive function and gait speed decline. Nine studies examining executive function and falls found a relationship between poor executive function and increased fall risk. All 3 studies examining executive function and gait found an association between poor executive function and declines in gait speed. Impaired executive function was associated with more serious falling patterns.

Conclusions: Executive function was associated with falls and gait speed slowing in older adults. Future research should consider executive dysfunction as a training target for fall prevention, or as a factor mediating the failure of conventional fall prevention interventions.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls*
  • Aged / physiology*
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests