Background: Falls warrant investigation as a risk factor for nursing home admission because falls are common and are associated with functional disability and because they may be preventable.
Methods: We conducted a prospective study of a probability sample of 1103 people over 71 years of age who were living in the community. Data on demographic and medical characteristics, use of health care, and cognitive, functional, psychological, and social functioning were obtained at base line and one year later during assessments in the participants' homes. The primary outcome studied was the number of days from the initial assessment to a first long-term admission to a skilled-nursing facility during three years of follow-up. Patients were assigned to four categories during follow-up: those who had no falls, those who had one fall without serious injury, those who had two or more falls without serious injury, and those who had at least one fall causing serious injury.
Results: A total of 133 participants (12.1 percent) had long-term admissions to nursing homes. In an unadjusted model, the risk of admission increased progressively, as compared with that for the patients with no falls, for those with a single noninjurious fall (relative risk, 4.9; 95 percent confidence interval, 3.2 to 7.5), those with multiple noninjurious falls (relative risk, 8.5; 95 percent confidence interval, 3.4 to 21.2), and those with at least one fall causing serious injury (relative risk, 19.9; 95 percent confidence interval, 12.2 to 32.6). Adjustment for other risk factors lowered these ratios to 3.1 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.9 to 4.9) for one noninjurious fall, 5.5 (95 percent confidence interval, 2.1 to 14.2) for two or more noninjurious falls, and 10.2 (95 percent confidence interval, 5.8 to 17.9) for at least one fall causing serious injury, but the association between falls and admission to a nursing home remained strong and significant. The population attributable risk of long-term admission to a nursing home for these three groups (the proportion of admissions directly attributable to the three categories of falls) was 13 percent, 3 percent, and 10 percent, respectively.
Conclusions: Among older people living in the community falls are a strong predictor of placement in a skilled-nursing facility; interventions that prevent falls and their sequelae may therefore delay or reduce the frequency of nursing home admissions.