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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Chronic disease and falls in community-dwelling Canadians over 65 years old: a population-based study exploring associations with number and pattern of chronic conditions

Kathryn M Sibley12, Jennifer Voth13, Sarah E Munce4, Sharon E Straus56 and Susan B Jaglal124*

Author Affiliations

1 Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network, Toronto, Canada

2 Department of Physical Therapy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

3 Department of Psychology, University of Windsor, Windsor, Canada

4 Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

5 Li-Ka-Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Canada

6 Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

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BMC Geriatrics 2014, 14:22  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-14-22

Published: 14 February 2014

Abstract

Background

Falls and chronic disease are both important health issues in older adults. The objectives of this study were to quantify the prevalence of falls and multi-morbidity (≥2 chronic conditions) in Canadian older adults; examine associations between falls and number of chronic conditions; and explore whether certain patterns of chronic disease were associated with a greater risk of falling.

Methods

Data were derived from the Canadian Community Health Survey- Healthy Aging. Primary outcomes from 16,357 community-dwelling adults aged 65 years and over were self-reported falls in the previous 12 months and presence of 13 chronic conditions. Prevalence estimates were calculated with normalized sampling weights, and hierarchical cluster analysis was used to identify clusters based on chronic condition patterns, and tested for association to falls with logistic regression.

Results

Overall prevalence of falling and multi-morbidity were 19.8% and 62.0% respectively. Fall risk was significantly greater in individuals with one, two, four, five and six or more chronic conditions relative to those with none (all p < 0.05). A seven-cluster model was selected, including groups with low prevalence of chronic disease, or high prevalence of hypertension and arthritis, visual impairment, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, or heart disease and hypertension. Only the hypertension cluster (Odds Ratio [OR] = 1.2) and COPD cluster (OR = 1.6) were significantly associated with increased falls relative to the low prevalence group.

Conclusions

Both the number and pattern of chronic conditions were related to falls. COPD emerged as a significant predictor of falls despite affecting a smaller proportion of respondents. Continued study is warranted to verify this association and determine how to incorporate consideration of chronic disease and multi-morbidity into fall risk assessments.