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Keywords:

  • alcohol consumption;
  • falls;
  • risk factors;
  • cohort study

Objectives: To assess the cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between alcohol consumption and risk of falls in older adults.

Design: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses.

Setting: Four U.S. communities.

Participants: A total of 5,841 older adults enrolled in the Cardiovascular Health Study, an ongoing, population-based, prospective cohort study, participated.

Measurements: Self-reported alcohol consumption at baseline, self-reported frequent falls at baseline, and the 4-year risk of falls of participants who denied frequent falls at baseline.

Results: Cross-sectional analysis indicated an apparent inverse association between alcohol consumption and risk of frequent falls (adjusted odds ratio in consumers of 14 or more drinks per week=0.41; 95% confidence interval (CI)=0.14–1.17; P for trend=.06), but longitudinal analysis indicated a similar 4-year risk of falls in abstainers and light to moderate drinkers but a 25% higher risk in consumers of 14 or more drinks per week (95% CI=3–52%; P for trend=.07). Similar results were found in analyses stratified by age, sex, race, and physical activity.

Conclusion: Consumption of 14 or more drinks per week is associated with an increased risk of subsequent falls in older adults. Cross-sectional studies may fail to identify this risk of heavier drinking, perhaps because older adults at risk for falls decrease their alcohol use over time or because heavier drinkers at risk for falls tend not to enroll in cohort studies. However, because this study relied upon annual reporting of falls, further prospective studies should be conducted to confirm these findings.