Objective: To determine the prevalence of impaired vision, peripheral sensation, lower limb muscle strength, reaction time, and balance in a large community-dwelling population of women aged 65 years and over, and to determine whether impaired performances in these tests are associated with falls.
Design: One-year prospective study.
Setting: Conducted as part of the Randwick Falls and Fractures Study, in Sydney, Australia.
Participants: Four hundred fourteen women aged 65 to 99 years (mean age 73.7 years, SD = 6.3) were randomly selected from the community; 341 of these women were included in the 1-year prospective study.
Main results: The prevalence of impairment in all tests increased with age. In the year following assessment, 207 subjects (60.7%) experienced no falls, 63 subjects (18.5%) fell one time only, and 71 subjects (20.8%) fell on two or more occasions. After controlling for age, multiple falling was associated with low contrast visual acuity and contrast sensitivity, poor vibration sense and proprioception, reduced lower limb strength, slow reaction time, and impaired balance, as indicated by four sway tests and two clinical stability measures. Discriminant function analysis identified visual contrast sensitivity, proprioception in the lower limbs, quadriceps strength, reaction time, and sway on a compliant (foam rubber) surface with the eyes open as the variables that significantly discriminated between subjects who experienced multiple falls and subjects who experienced no falls or one fall only (Wilks' lambda = 0.73 (P < 0.001), canonical correlation = 0.52). This procedure correctly classified 75% of subjects into multiple faller or nonmultiple faller groups.
Conclusions: These findings support previous results conducted in retirement village and institutional setting and indicate that the test procedure aids in the identification of older community-dwelling women at risk of falls.