The purpose of this study was to identify associations between the use of commonly taken medications and groups of medications and the risk of falls in elderly people living in the community. A stratified random sample of 1358 persons aged 65 years and over was selected from the 15 000 members of an educational organization for functionally independent, community-dwelling elderly people in St Louis, Missouri. Twenty-seven per cent of subjects reported at least one fall in the past year and 8% reported two or more falls. After adjusting for potential confounders (including age, sex, relevant medical conditions, health status, cognitive impairment, use of alcohol, depression and use of other medications), the following medications were found to be important risk factors for multiple falls: diazepam [odds ratio (OR): 3.7, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.5-9.3], diltiazem (OR: 1.8, 95% CI: 0.8-4.1), diuretics (OR: 1.8, 95% CI: 1.2-2.8) and laxatives (OR: 2.1, 95% CI: 1.0-4.5). We conclude that caution is needed before prescribing diuretics and psychotropics, especially diazepam, for elderly people. The safety of diltiazem in this age group should be assessed further.