Environmental interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community

Lindy Clemson, Susan Stark, Alison C. Pighills, Nicola J. Fairhall, Sarah E. Lamb, Jinnat Ali, Catherine Sherrington

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Falls and fall-related injuries are common. A third of community-dwelling people aged over 65 years fall each year. Falls can have serious consequences including restricting activity or institutionalisation. This review updates the previous evidence for environmental interventions in fall prevention. Objectives: To assess the effects (benefits and harms) of environmental interventions (such as fall-hazard reduction, assistive technology, home modifications, and education) for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Search methods: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, other databases, trial registers, and reference lists of systematic reviews to January 2021. We contacted researchers in the field to identify additional studies. Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials evaluating the effects of environmental interventions (such as reduction of fall hazards in the home, assistive devices) on falls in community-residing people aged 60 years and over. Data collection and analysis: We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. Our primary outcome was rate of falls. Main results: We included 22 studies from 10 countries involving 8463 community-residing older people. Participants were on average 78 years old, and 65% were women. For fall outcomes, five studies had high risk of bias and most studies had unclear risk of bias for one or more risk of bias domains. For other outcomes (e.g. fractures), most studies were at high risk of detection bias. We downgraded the certainty of the evidence for high risk of bias, imprecision, and/or inconsistency. Home fall-hazard reduction (14 studies, 5830 participants). These interventions aim to reduce falls by assessing fall hazards and making environmental safety adaptations (e.g. non-slip strips on steps) or behavioural strategies (e.g. avoiding clutter). Home fall-hazard interventions probably reduce the overall rate of falls by 26% (rate ratio (RaR) 0.74, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.61 to 0.91; 12 studies, 5293 participants; moderate-certainty evidence); based on a control group risk of 1319 falls per 1000 people a year, this is 343 (95% CI 118 to 514) fewer falls. However, these interventions were more effective in people who are selected for higher risk of falling, with a reduction of 38% (RaR 0.62, 95% CI 0.56 to 0.70; 9 studies, 1513 participants; 702 (95% CI 554 to 812) fewer falls based on a control risk of 1847 falls per 1000 people; high-certainty evidence). We found no evidence of a reduction in rate of falls when people were not selected for fall risk (RaR 1.05, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.16; 6 studies, 3780 participants; high-certainty evidence). Findings were similar for the number of people experiencing one or more falls. These interventions probably reduce the overall risk by 11% (risk ratio (RR) 0.89, 95% CI 0.82 to 0.97; 12 studies, 5253 participants; moderate-certainty evidence); based on a risk of 519 per 1000 people per year, this is 57 (95% CI 15 to 93) fewer fallers. However, for people at higher risk of falling, we found a 26% decrease in risk (RR 0.74, 95% CI 0.65 to 0.85; 9 studies, 1473 participants), but no decrease for unselected populations (RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.92 to 1.07; 6 studies, 3780 participants) (high-certainty evidence). These interventions probably make little or no important difference to health-related quality of life (HRQoL) (standardised mean difference 0.09, 95% CI −0.10 to 0.27; 5 studies, 1848 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). They may make little or no difference to the risk of fall-related fractures (RR 1.00, 95% 0.98 to 1.02; 2 studies, 1668 participants), fall-related hospitalisations (RR 0.96, 95% CI 0.87 to 1.06; 3 studies, 325 participants), or in the rate of falls requiring medical attention (RaR 0.91, 95% CI 0.58 to 1.43; 3 studies, 946 participants) (low-certainty evidence). The evidence for number of fallers requiring medical attention was unclear (2 studies, 216 participants; very low-certainty evidence). Two studies reported no adverse events. Assistive technology. Vision improvement interventions may make little or no difference to the rate of falls (RaR 1.12, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.50; 3 studies, 1489 participants) or people experiencing one or more falls (RR 1.09, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.50) (low-certainty evidence). We are unsure of the evidence for fall-related fractures (2 studies, 976 participants) and falls requiring medical attention (1 study, 276 participants) because the certainty of the evidence is very low. There may be little or no difference in HRQoL (mean difference 0.40, 95% CI −1.12 to 1.92) or adverse events (falls while switching glasses; RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.98 to 1.02) (1 study, 597 participants; low-certainty evidence). Results for other assistive technology - footwear and foot devices, and self-care and assistive devices (5 studies, 651 participants) - were not pooled due to the diversity of interventions and contexts. Education. We are uncertain whether an education intervention to reduce home fall hazards reduces the rate of falls or the number of people experiencing one or more falls (1 study; very low-certainty evidence). These interventions may make little or no difference to the risk of fall-related fractures (RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.08; 1 study, 110 participants; low-certainty evidence). Home modifications. We found no trials of home modifications that measured falls as an outcome for task enablement and functional independence. Authors' conclusions: We found high-certainty evidence that home fall-hazard interventions are effective in reducing the rate of falls and the number of fallers when targeted to people at higher risk of falling, such as having had a fall in the past year and recently hospitalised or needing support with daily activities. There was evidence of no effect when interventions were targeted to people not selected for risk of falling. Further research is needed to examine the impact of intervention components, the effect of awareness raising, and participant-interventionist engagement on decision-making and adherence. Vision improvement interventions may or may not impact the rate of falls. Further research is needed to answer clinical questions such as whether people should be given advice or take additional precautions when changing eye prescriptions, or whether the intervention is more effective when targeting people at higher risk of falls. There was insufficient evidence to determine whether education interventions impact falls.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD013258
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 10 2023


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