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Is a Fall Just a Fall: Correlates of Falling in Healthy Older Persons. The Health, Aging and Body Composition Study


Address correspondence to Nathalie de Rekeneire, MD, Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography and Biometry, National Institute on Aging, Gateway Building, Suite 3C-309, 7201 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20892. E-mail:


OBJECTIVES: To identify factors associated with falling in well-functioning older people.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional analyses of report of falls over the past 12 months using baseline data from the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study.

SETTING: Clinic examinations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or Memphis, Tennessee.

PARTICIPANTS: Three thousand seventy-five high-functioning black and white elderly aged 70 to 79 living in the community.

MEASUREMENTS: Physical function assessed using self-report and performance measures. Health status indicators included diseases, medication use, and body composition measures.

RESULTS: Almost one-quarter (24.1%) of women and 18.3% of men reported at least one fall within the year before the baseline examination. Fallers were more likely to be female; white; report more chronic diseases and medications; and have lower leg strength, poorer balance, slower 400-meter walk time, and lower muscle mass. In men, multivariate logistic regression models showed white race (adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 1.4, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.2–1.6), slower 6-meter walk speed (OR = 1.1, 95% CI = 1.0–1.3), poor standing balance (OR = 1.2, 95% CI = 1.0–1.4), inability to do 5 chair stands (OR = 1.7, 95% CI = 1.3–1.9), report of urinary incontinence (UI) (OR = 1.5, 95% CI = 1.1–2.0), and mid-quintile of leg muscle strength (OR = 0.6, 95% CI = 0.4–0.9) to be independently associated with report of falling. In women, benzodiazepine use (OR = 1.6, 95% CI = 1.0–2.6), UI (OR = 1.5, 95% CI = 1.2–1.9), and reported difficulty in rising from a chair (OR = 1.4, 95% CI = 1.2–1.6) were associated with past falls.

CONCLUSION: Falls history needs to be screened in healthier older adults. Even for well-functioning older persons, specific correlates of falling can be identified to define those at risk.