Pain is a significant contributing factor in falls among older individuals, suggesting that pain management initiatives could help long-term care facilities improve resident safety, according to recently published findings.

Seniors who reported pain had a recurrent fall prevalence of 19.5%, meaning that this proportion of the study population fell at least two times in 2011. Those without pain had a recurrent fall prevalence of 7.4%.

Pain also is associated with a greater fear of falling, the investigators determined. For 18% of the study participants with pain, that fear was great enough to limit their daily activities. This figure was only about 4% for those without pain.

Pain likely contributes to falls for a variety of reasons, including muscles that are weaker due to disuse, altered gait, cognitive functions that are disrupted due to “pain processing,” and medications to treat pain that increase fall risk, the study authors wrote.

The investigators conducted in-person interviews and assessments of 7,600 people taking part in the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study. While nursing home residents were excluded, the study included people in assisted living and other residential care communities.

“In view of the findings of the current study and others, effective pain management strategies should be developed and integrated into multifactorial falls prevention programs,” the authors concluded.

The investigators were affiliated with a number of institutions, including the University of Washington, Harvard Medical School and the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Findings appear in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.