Risk assessments & personalized approaches to fall prevention among older adults

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

Risk assessments that gauge an individual’s risk of falling allow providers to personalize fall prevention interventions based on that individual’s needs. Such assessments are typically provided to older adults by health professionals such as registered nurses or physicians and can include a functional assessment, balance and gait assessments, and exercise assessments. Following assessment, individuals are provided multi-component interventions designed to reduce their fall risk, which may include exercise (i.e., balance, strength, and endurance training), home or environmental modification, medication management, education, or vitamin D supplementation. Patients can also be referred to specialists such as physical therapists for assessment and personally adapted interventions1. Falls can lead to physical injuries with long lasting effects, increased risk of early death, and psychological concerns such as fear of falling and loss of confidence2, 3. Fall prevention efforts are covered as part of the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit4.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced falls

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced injuries

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that individual risk assessments and personalized fall prevention interventions reduce the rate of falls among older adults living in community settings1, 3, 5, 6. Such interventions may also reduce falls among older hospital patients, especially those with longer lengths of stay3, 7.

Individual risk assessments and tailored home-based exercise programs significantly reduce falls, and improve balance, strength, and function among older adults in community settings6. Exercise, a typical component of personalized programs, has been shown to reduce fall rates8. Approaches that combine exercise and vision assessments with treatment have been shown to reduce injury rates, and including vitamin D and calcium supplements can reduce falls and fractures5. Tailored balance-challenging exercises have been shown to reduce falls among people with Parkinson’s disease9.

Personalized fall prevention efforts can be incorporated into standard practice in both primary care and long-term care settings10. Experts suggest that clinicians inquire about depression11 along with foot pain and chronic pain during fall risk assessments, as each is associated with an increased risk of falling12.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

As of 2018, 12 states have laws that require funding for risk assessment and fall prevention activities in community, clinical, and nursing care settings13; 6 states have bills pending14. Some of these laws include provisions that incentivize primary care providers to integrate risk assessments and prevention activities into their practice13.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) older adult fall prevention program, STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, & Injuries), provides tools, online trainings, and educational materials for patients and providers on how to prevent falls, including methods to incorporate STEADI in primary care and family medicine practices15, 16.

Implementation Resources

NCOA-Falls prevention - National Council on Aging (NCOA). National Falls Prevention Resource Center.

CDC-STEADI - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries) tools for health care providers and patients.

IHI-TCAB - Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). Transforming Care at the Bedside how-to guide: Reducing patient injuries from falls.

CDC-Falls - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Older adult falls.

Mayo Clinic-Falls - Mayo Clinic. Fall prevention: Simple tips to prevent falls.

CDC-Stevens 2015 - Stevens JA, Burns ER. CDC compendium of effective fall interventions: What works for community-dwelling older adults. 3rd edition. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). 2015.


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1 Stubbs 2015 - Stubbs B, Brefka S, Denkinger MD. What works to prevent falls in community-dwelling older adults? Umbrella review of meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials. Physical Therapy. 2015;95(8):1095-1110.

2 CDC-Falls - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Older adult falls.

3 Cochrane-Gillespie 2012 - Gillespie LD, Robertson MC, Gillespie WJ, et al. Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community: Review. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2012;(9):CD007146.

4 Van Voast Moncada 2017 - Van Voast Moncada L, Mire LG. Preventing falls in older persons. American Family Physician. 2017;96(4):240-247.

5 Tricco 2017 - Tricco AC, Thomas SM, Veroniki AA, et al. Comparisons of interventions for preventing falls in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2017;318(17):1687-1699.

6 Hill 2015a - Hill KD, Hunter SW, Batchelor FA, Cavalheri V, Burton E. Individualized home-based exercise programs for older people to reduce falls and improve physical performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Maturitas. 2015;82(1):72-84.

7 Cochrane-Cameron 2012 - Cameron ID, Gillespie LD, Robertson MC, et al. Interventions for preventing falls in older people in care facilities and hospitals: Review. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2012;(12):CD005465.

8 Sherrington 2017 - Sherrington C, Michaleff ZA, Fairhall N, et al. Exercise to prevent falls in older adults: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2017;51(24):1750-1758.

9 Canning 2014 - Canning CG, Paul SS, Nieuwboer A. Prevention of falls in Parkinson’s disease: A review of fall risk factors and the role of physical interventions. Neurodegenerative Disease Management. 2014;4(3):203-221.

10 Eckstrom 2016 - Eckstrom E, Neal MB, Cotrell V, et al. An interprofessional approach to reducing the risk of falls through enhanced collaborative practice. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2016;64(8):1701-1707.

11 Kvelde 2015 - Kvelde T, Lord SR, Close JCT, et al. Depressive symptoms increase fall risk in older people, independent of antidepressant use, and reduced executive and physical functioning. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics. 2015;60(1):190-195.

12 Stubbs 2014 - Stubbs B, Binnekade T, Eggermont L, et al. Pain and the risk for falls in community-dwelling older adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2014;95(1):175-187.e9.

13 NCSL-Falls - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Elderly falls prevention legislation and statutes.

14 NCSL-IPLD-Elderly falls - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Injury prevention legislation database (IPLD). Database search: Elderly falls.

15 CDC-STEADI - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries) tools for health care providers and patients.

16 Sarmiento 2017 - Sarmiento K, Lee R. STEADI: CDC’s approach to make older adult fall prevention part of every primary care practice. Journal of Safety Research. 2017;63:105-109.