Image of an older women with walker in long-term care setting interacting with healthcare provider

Nearly half of American seniors with dementia had one or more falls in the preceding year, according to a new analysis of 2016 data. Three factors were most highly associated with risk, the researchers say.

Data came from the National Health and Aging Trends Study from 2015 and 2016, which examined health and disability trends and outcomes in adults aged 65 years and older in the United States. Fully 45.5% of older adults living with dementia experienced one or more falls in 2016, compared to 31% of older adults without dementia, investigators found.

Impaired vision, living with a spouse versus living alone, and a history of falls within the prior year were strongly linked to greater likelihood of falls, reported the authors, from Drexel University in Philadelphia and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

They also pinpointed key falls risk factors for older adults living without dementia. These included financial hardship, a history of falls, fear of falling, poor lower extremity performance, depressive symptoms and home disrepair.

The study is the first national one to compare risk factors for senior Americans living with dementia to those without dementia, according to the researchers. The results support tailored falls prevention strategies for people with dementia that consider key risk factors during screening, they added.

“Overall, our findings demonstrate the importance of understanding and addressing fall-risk among older adults living with dementia,” said Safiyyah Okoye, PhD, of Drexel. “It confirms that fall-risk is multidimensional and influenced by environmental context in addition to health and function factors.”

Full findings were published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

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