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Research Letter |

The Epidemiologic Data on Falls, 1998-2010 More Older Americans Report Falling FREE

Christine T. Cigolle, MD, MPH1,2; Jinkyung Ha, PhD2; Lillian C. Min, MD, MSHS2; Pearl G. Lee, MD, MS2; Tanya R. Gure, MD3; Neil B. Alexander, MD, MS2; Caroline S. Blaum, MD, MS4
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Family Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor
2Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor
3Division of General Internal Medicine, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus
4Division of Geriatrics, New York University Langone Medical Center, New York, NY
JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(3):443-445. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7533.
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Published online

Falling is the most frequent cause of injury in older adults in the United States, leading to substantial disability and mortality. A variety of studies have found that approximately one-third of older adults fall each year, but there have been no nationally representative longitudinal studies that examine falling across the population over time.1 Falling is anticipated to increase in the United States owing to changing demography. However, a prior statewide study showed a temporal increase (1999-2001) in the annual rate of falls requiring medical care, independent of age.2 We investigated temporal trends in falling on a national scale from 1998 to 2010, hypothesizing that any increase in prevalence would be due to changes in the age structure of the population.

We used data from 7 biennial waves (1998-2010) of the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative longitudinal health interview survey of a cohort of middle-aged and older adults in the United States.3,4 The Health and Retirement Study is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, is performed by the Institute for Social Research (University of Michigan), and was approved by the University of Michigan Health Sciences Institutional Review Board. The practice of the Health and Retirement Study (for both telephone and in-person interviews) is for respondents to be read a confidentiality statement when first contacted; respondents provide oral or implied consent by agreeing to the interview. The study sample for each wave included all adults 65 years or older (≥10 590 for each wave).

We defined falling as at least 1 self-reported fall in the preceding 2 years. We also examined fall frequency and fall injuries. Covariates included sociodemographic characteristics (eg, age, sex, race and ethnicity, marital status, educational level), chronic diseases (eg, hypertension, heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes mellitus, musculoskeletal conditions, stroke), other geriatric conditions (eg, dementia, urinary incontinence, vision impairment, hearing impairment), and body mass index.5 We also investigated the effect of participation in prior interview waves on the self-report of falls. We used age-stratified cross-sectional and longitudinal logistic analyses to investigate falling across interview waves.

Among all adults 65 years or older, the 2-year prevalence of self-reported falls increased from 28.2% in 1998 to 36.3% in 2010 (Figure). Stratifying by age, fall prevalence increased for adults aged 65 to 89 years (Table) and was most marked at the younger end of the age range (analysis of 1-year age cohorts). Using unadjusted age-stratified logistic models across all 7 waves, linear time predicted increased fall prevalence for all but 4 ages from 65 to 88 years. In fully adjusted models, linear time predicted increased fall prevalence for all but 6 ages from 65 to 82 years (P < .05); prevalence differences were smaller or nonexistent for older ages in fully adjusted models, and therefore no longer statistically significant. We could not find any significant effects for disease-by-time interaction (eg, diabetes with time), suggesting that the increase in fall prevalence is always observed, regardless of the presence of disease. The increased self-report of falls across interview waves was not associated with respondents’ participation in the immediately preceding interview wave; the increase was likewise not associated with the total number of preceding interviews in which respondents participated. There was no increase in disability across interview waves, and the increased self-report of falls was found with older adults with and without a disability. There was no concomitant increase in the prevalence of injury from falls at the population level or with age stratification.

Place holder to copy figure label and caption
Figure.
Two-Year Prevalence of Number of Falls Across Interview Waves of the Health and Retirement Study (1998-2010)

Respondents replied to the question “Have you fallen down in the last 2 years/since respondent’s last interview?” Weighted percentages were derived using Health and Retirement Study respondent population weights to adjust for differential probability of selection into the sample and differential nonresponse.

Graphic Jump Location
Table Graphic Jump LocationTable.  Two-Year Prevalence of at Least 1 Fall, Stratified by Age, 1998 and 2010

Contrary to our hypothesis, we observed an increase in fall prevalence among older adults that exceeds what would be expected owing to the increasing age of the population. Programs such as Matter of Balance focus on making older adults aware of balance and fall risk and provide strategies to reduce fall risk; these programs may improve reporting.6 Alternatively, if a true increase in falling is occurring, then further research is needed to identify possible reasons, such as an increase in fall risk factors (eg, cardiovascular and psychiatric medications) or an increase in fall risk behavior.

Corresponding Author: Christine T. Cigolle, MD, MPH, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, 300 N Ingalls, Ste 956, Ann Arbor, MI 48109 (ccigolle@med.umich.edu).

Published Online: January 19, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7533.

Author Contributions: Drs Cigolle and Ha had full access to all the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Study concept and design: Cigolle, Min, Lee, Gure, Alexander, Blaum.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Cigolle, Ha.

Drafting of the manuscript: Cigolle, Min, Alexander.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Cigolle, Ha, Min, Lee, Gure, Blaum.

Statistical analysis: Cigolle, Ha, Min.

Obtained funding: Cigolle, Gure.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Cigolle, Lee, Alexander.

Study supervision: Cigolle, Blaum.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Funding/Support: Dr Cigolle is supported by grant K08 AG031837 from the National Institute on Aging.

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funding source had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Tinetti  ME, Speechley  M, Ginter  SF.  Risk factors for falls among elderly persons living in the community. N Engl J Med. 1988;319(26):1701-1707.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Murphy  TE, Tinetti  ME, Allore  HG.  Hierarchical models to evaluate translational research: Connecticut collaboration for fall prevention. Contemp Clin Trials. 2008;29(3):343-350.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Juster  FT, Suzman  R.  An overview of the Health and Retirement Study. J Hum Resour. 1995;30:S7-S56.
Link to Article
Soldo  BJ, Hurd  MD, Rodgers  WL, Wallace  RB.  Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old: an overview of the AHEAD Study. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 1997;52(Spec No.):1-20.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Cigolle  CT, Langa  KM, Kabeto  MU, Tian  Z, Blaum  CS.  Geriatric conditions and disability: the Health and Retirement Study. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147(3):156-164.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Zijlstra  GA, van Haastregt  JC, Ambergen  T,  et al.  Effects of a multicomponent cognitive behavioral group intervention on fear of falling and activity avoidance in community-dwelling older adults: results of a randomized controlled trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009;57(11):2020-2028.
PubMed   |  Link to Article

Figures

Place holder to copy figure label and caption
Figure.
Two-Year Prevalence of Number of Falls Across Interview Waves of the Health and Retirement Study (1998-2010)

Respondents replied to the question “Have you fallen down in the last 2 years/since respondent’s last interview?” Weighted percentages were derived using Health and Retirement Study respondent population weights to adjust for differential probability of selection into the sample and differential nonresponse.

Graphic Jump Location

Tables

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable.  Two-Year Prevalence of at Least 1 Fall, Stratified by Age, 1998 and 2010

References

Tinetti  ME, Speechley  M, Ginter  SF.  Risk factors for falls among elderly persons living in the community. N Engl J Med. 1988;319(26):1701-1707.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Murphy  TE, Tinetti  ME, Allore  HG.  Hierarchical models to evaluate translational research: Connecticut collaboration for fall prevention. Contemp Clin Trials. 2008;29(3):343-350.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Juster  FT, Suzman  R.  An overview of the Health and Retirement Study. J Hum Resour. 1995;30:S7-S56.
Link to Article
Soldo  BJ, Hurd  MD, Rodgers  WL, Wallace  RB.  Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old: an overview of the AHEAD Study. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 1997;52(Spec No.):1-20.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Cigolle  CT, Langa  KM, Kabeto  MU, Tian  Z, Blaum  CS.  Geriatric conditions and disability: the Health and Retirement Study. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147(3):156-164.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Zijlstra  GA, van Haastregt  JC, Ambergen  T,  et al.  Effects of a multicomponent cognitive behavioral group intervention on fear of falling and activity avoidance in community-dwelling older adults: results of a randomized controlled trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009;57(11):2020-2028.
PubMed   |  Link to Article

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