Most falls-related research has relied on self-reports to identify the cause of a fall, but in a novel study that earned the 2018 gold Mather LifeWays Innovative Research on Aging Award, researchers used video recordings to more accurately determine the leading causes of falls and the role played by gender.
The researchers examined video recordings from common areas of two long-term care communities, which captured 1,738 falls over nine years. The fallers included 231 male and 298 female residents with an average age of 83. The researchers looked at how the cause of a fall was influenced the type of activity engaged in, and whether there were differences in the types of falls between men and women.
They found approximately half of all falls were caused by incorrect shifts in body weight, and one in five by loss of support by an external object, followed by trips or stumbles, hits or bumps, collapse or loss of consciousness, and slips. Men were more likely to fall because of loss of support (23.3% in men, 18.2% in women), while women were more likely to trip or stumble (15.1% in women, 11.3% in men).
The most common activity at time of falling was walking, which was more likely to occur in women (40.3% vs 29.2%). Falls while standing accounted for 25.0% in men and 23.8% in women. Falls while sitting down/lowering accounted for 15.9% in men and 14.3% in women. Men were more likely to fall while seated/wheeling (15.5% vs 11.5%) or getting up/rising (14.4% vs 10.2%).
The researchers also considered cause of fall for each type of activity. Women were more likely to fall due to incorrect shift in body weight while sitting down/lowering (81% vs 66%), while men were more likely to fall due to loss of support with an external object while sitting down/lowering (29.7% vs 17.6%). Notably, 89% of hit- or bump-related falls were caused by a push or pull from another person.
Based on these results, the researchers recommend offering customized exercise programs for women and men, as well as promoting safer transfers involving wheelchairs. While the falls examined in this study were limited to common areas, the findings provide insights that can be useful for general fall prevention strategies.