gms | German Medical Science

GMS Health Technology Assessment

Deutsche Agentur für Health Technology Assessment (DAHTA)

ISSN 1861-8863

Falls prevention for the elderly

HTA Summary

  • corresponding author Katrin Balzer - Nursing research group, Institute for Social Medicine, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
  • Martina Bremer - Nursing research group, Institute for Social Medicine, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
  • Susanne Schramm - Institute for Social Medicine, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
  • Dagmar Lühmann - Institute for Social Medicine, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
  • Heiner Raspe - Institute for Social Medicine, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany

GMS Health Technol Assess 2012;8:Doc01

doi: 10.3205/hta000099, urn:nbn:de:0183-hta0000994

This is the original version of the article.
The translated version can be found at: http://www.egms.de/de/journals/hta/2012-8/hta000099.shtml

Published: April 12, 2012

© 2012 Balzer et al.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/deed.en). You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.

The complete HTA Report in German language can be found online at: http://portal.dimdi.de/de/hta/hta_berichte/hta255_bericht_de.pdf


Outline

Abstract

Background

An ageing population, a growing prevalence of chronic diseases and limited financial resources for health care underpin the importance of prevention of disabling health disorders and care dependency in the elderly. A wide variety of measures is generally available for the prevention of falls and fall-related injuries. The spectrum ranges from diagnostic procedures for identifying individuals at risk of falling to complex interventions for the removal or reduction of identified risk factors. However, the clinical and economic effectiveness of the majority of recommended strategies for fall prevention is unclear. Against this background, the literature analyses in this HTA report aim to support decision-making for effective and efficient fall prevention.

Research questions

The pivotal research question addresses the effectiveness of single interventions and complex programmes for the prevention of falls and fall-related injuries. The target population are the elderly (> 60 years), living in their own housing or in long term care facilities. Further research questions refer to the cost-effectiveness of fall prevention measures, and their ethical, social and legal implications.

Methods

Systematic literature searches were performed in 31 databases covering the publication period from January 2003 to January 2010. While the effectiveness of interventions is solely assessed on the basis of randomised controlled trials (RCT), the assessment of the effectiveness of diagnostic procedures also considers prospective accuracy studies. In order to clarify social, ethical and legal aspects all studies deemed relevant with regard to content were taken into consideration, irrespective of their study design. Study selection and critical appraisal were conducted by two independent assessors. Due to clinical heterogeneity of the studies no meta-analyses were performed.

Results

Out of 12,000 references retrieved by literature searches, 184 meet the inclusion criteria. However, to a variable degree the validity of their results must be rated as compromised due to different biasing factors. In summary, it appears that the performance of tests or the application of parameters to identify individuals at risk of falling yields little or no clinically relevant information. Positive effects of exercise interventions may be expected in relatively young and healthy seniors, while studies indicate opposite effects in the fragile elderly. For this specific vulnerable population the modification of the housing environment shows protective effects. A low number of studies, low quality of studies or inconsistent results lead to the conclusion that the effectiveness of the following interventions has to be rated unclear yet: correction of vision disorders, modification of psychotropic medication, vitamin D supplementation, nutritional supplements, psychological interventions, education of nursing personnel, multiple and multifactorial programs as well as the application of hip protectors.

For the context of the German health care system the economic evaluations of fall prevention retrieved by the literature searches yield very few useful results. Cost-effectiveness calculations of fall prevention are mostly based on weak effectiveness data as well as on epidemiological and cost data from foreign health care systems.

Ethical analysis demonstrates ambivalent views of the target population concerning fall risk and the necessity of fall prevention. The willingness to take up preventive measures depends on a variety of personal factors, the quality of information, guidance and decision-making, the prevention program itself and social support.

The analysis of papers regarding legal issues shows three main challenges: the uncertainty of which standard of care has to be expected with regard to fall prevention, the necessity to consider the specific conditions of every single case when measures for fall prevention are applied, and the difficulty to balance the rights to autonomous decision making and physical integrity.

Discussion and conclusions

The assessment of clinical effectiveness of interventions for fall prevention is complicated by inherent methodological problems (esp. absence of blinding) and meaningful clinical heterogeneity of available studies. Therefore meta-analyses are not appropriate, and single study results are difficult to interpret. Both problems also impair the informative value of economic analyses. With this background it has to be stated that current recommendations regarding fall prevention in the elderly are not fully supported by scientific evidence. In particular, for the generation of new recommendations the dependency of probable effects on specific characteristics of the target populations or care settings should be taken into consideration. This also applies to the variable factors influencing the willingness of the target population to take up and pursue preventive measures.

In the planning of future studies equal weight should be placed on methodological rigour (freedom from biases) and transferability of results into routine care. Economic analyses require input of German data, either in form of a “piggy back study“ or in form of a modelling study that reflects the structures of the German health care system and is based on German epidemiological and cost data.

Keywords: accidental falls, accidents, home/*, activities of daily living, aged/*, aged/*psychology, adjustment of the living environment, cataract surgery, correction of the visual acuity, customisation of the living environment, diagnosis, dietary supplements, dose-response relationship, drug, EBM, economic evaluation, elderly, environment design, evidence-based medicine, exercise program, exercise/physiology, eye test, eyesight, eyesight test, fall, fall prevention, fall prophylaxis, fall risk, fall risk factors, falling consequences, falling danger, fall-related injuries, fracture, freedom/*, freedom-depriving measures, geriatric nursing home, health technology assessment, hip fracture, hip fractures, hip protectors, homes for the aged, HTA, humans; interventions, medical adjustment, meta-analysis as topic, motor activity, motor activity/drug effects, motor skills, motor function, multi-factorial programs, multimodal programs, nursing homes, peer review, power of movement, prevention, primary prevention, private domesticity, prophylaxis, randomized controlled trial, randomized controlled trials as topic, RCT, review literature as topic, risk assessment, risk factors, risk reduction behavior, seniors, sight, stabilized, systematic review, technology assessment, biomedical, training program, visual acuity, Vitamin D/administration & dosage


Summary

Health political background

Against the background of demographic change and a growing burden of chronic diseases health policy is faced with the task to adequately invest the shortening resources to assure high quality and affordable health care. In this context, the importance of interventions to prevent ill health and care dependency becomes apparent. Fall prevention in the elderly seems an attractive option because old age is not only associated with elevated fall risk but also with an elevated risk of fall-related injuries. The findings presented in this Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Report are intended to support decisions for effective and efficient resource use.

Scientific background

National as well as international guidelines recommend a broad spectrum of single and combined interventions for fall prevention. They aim to detect individuals at high risk for falls and to remove risk factors for falls. For the assessment of fall risk a number of formal and non-formal tests are available. Preventive interventions address individual risk factors for falls and comprise pharmaceutical or non-pharmaceutical single interventions and multifaceted programs. The latter are characterized by the combination of a number of single measures. So called multifactorial programs include an assessment of fall risk, followed by interventions targeting at the individual’s risk factors. Multifaceted programs that offer the same selection of interventions to all participants are termed multiple interventions. Aside from specific measures, fall prevention also requires that adequate routine care is delivered safely.

A large number of guideline recommendations are based on results of trials with inconclusive results. In particular, there is a lack of trials investigating setting and target group specific effects of fall prevention.

The economic relevance results from the presumed effectiveness of interventions to prevent falls and fall-related injuries with their associated costs.

Research questions

The report addresses three main questions:

  • What are the effects of pharmaceutical or non-pharmaceutical single interventions and structured multifaceted programs for fall prevention in the elderly on the incidence of falls and fall-related injuries (type and severity)?
  • How cost-effective are these interventions and programs?
  • Which social requirements, ethical considerations and specific legal aspects are of relevance for the implementation of strategies for fall prevention in the elderly?

These research questions refer to individuals aged 60 years or older, either community dwelling or living in long-term care facilities.

Methods

Systematic literature searches are performed in 31 databases, covering the publication period from January 2003 to January 2010. Further references are retrieved from reference lists of systematic reviews. The effectiveness assessment of preventive interventions is solely based on results from randomised controlled trials (RCT). The assessment of strategies for identifying individuals at high risk for falls also includes prospective diagnostic accuracy studies. In order to answer the research questions relating to social, ethical and legal considerations publications with relevant contents are included, irrespective of study design. Study selection, critical appraisal and data extraction is carried out by two independent researchers. Due to the heterogeneity of materials meta-analyses are not performed.

Results

12,000 references are identified through electronic literatures and screening of reference lists with 184 of them meeting the inclusion criteria.

Results – Clinical effectiveness

Instruments and tests for the assessment of fall risk: 16 prospective observational studies and one Cluster-RCT report results referring to the diagnostic performance or clinical efficacy of 34 different tests, instruments or parameters for fall risk assessment. Up to current knowledge, the concurrent sensitivity and specificity of none of the assessment procedures exceeds 70 %. As long as testing aims to identify individuals at high risk for falls the informative benefit is rather small. Additionally, the internal validity of the studies is compromised by various sources for bias, especially the unclear influence of prophylactic interventions and the unclear independence of index and reference test. Results from the Cluster-RCT demonstrate that the mere implementation of a rating scale for fall risk assessment is neither able to lower the incidence of falls nor to increase the use of preventive interventions.

Exercise to improve physical functioning: These results are based on the findings from 37 RCT. The studies cover a broad spectrum of populations and interventions. The internal validity of about half of the studies is compromised by unclear information concerning the allocation of participants to the study groups. In almost all studies blinding of participants and endpoint assessors is either not performed or not reported. Still, study results suggest that multidimensional exercise programs may be effective for fall prevention if they are performed continuously over a longer period of time. These results refer to the healthy elderly showing good functional abilities. At the same time some studies report negative effects of exercise in fragile study populations. The marked heterogeneity of exercise programs (e. g. intensity, mode of instruction, and profession of trainers) and variable follow-up periods prevent an overall conclusion concerning the effectiveness of one specific type of training. Furthermore, the effect of exercise on the risk of fall-related injuries remains unclear.

Assessment and correction of visual acuity: Two trials investigate the effect of visual acuity examination followed by corrective measures. One study, including relatively healthy senior citizens, reports no effects on fall risk. The other trial, whose study population is rather fragile and very old, indicates a significantly elevated fall risk and an almost significantly elevated fracture risk in the intervention group. It must be concluded that the effect of visual acuity correction on fall risk is unclear. When providing vision aids to the very elderly an elevation of fall risk cannot be ruled out.

Surgical interventions: The effectiveness of the implantation of a cardiac pacemaker on fall risk in patients with a specific type of cardiac arrhythmia (hypersensitive carotid sinus syndrome) is reported in one RCT. While a significantly lower fall rate is found in the treatment group the fracture risk remains unchanged. The validity of these results remains questionable as the risk of bias is unclear.

Two trials investigating the effects of cataract extraction on fall risk arrive at diverging results. While one RCT reports positive effects of first eye cataract extraction on fall risk, the other trial investigating the effects of second eye cataract extraction could not replicate these results. There was even a trend towards an elevated fracture risk reported for the intervention group. It is not clear to what degree the contradictory results may be explained by methodological shortcomings.

Educational interventions: Two trials report the effects of cognitive-behavioural interventions on fall risk of community dwelling senior citizens. This type of intervention aims at informing elderly people about their fall risk and at strengthening competencies and self-confidence to deal with the problem. Both trials report no differences in fall risk between intervention and control groups. Because the validity of the results may be compromised by methodological problems the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioural interventions for fall prevention remains unclear.

Interventions to improve competencies of professionals working in long-term care institutions: Four studies report results for this type of interventions. The heterogeneous interventions include different health care professions and vary in their focus. One trial, which meets none of the methodological quality criteria, reports positive results for fall-related endpoints. Overall, the results indicate that interventions that aim at improving competencies of professionals are not effective for fall prevention.

Home modification: Six trials report effects of home modification on fall risk. The interventions consist of a standardized examination of the living environment, leading to recommendations for modification. All trials include community-dwelling seniors. In summary their results point out that effects on fall prevention are related to the vulnerability of the target group. Three trials, which include study populations not selected for elevated fall risk, report indifferent results. The three other trials, which include study populations at elevated risk for falls or with compromised health consistently report significantly lower fall rates in the intervention groups. Taking the available information on study quality into consideration it may be concluded that home modification is probably effective for fall prevention in the fragile elderly.

Hip protectors: 14 RCT, which report the effects of supplying elderly study populations with hip protectors to on the incidence of hip fractures, fulfil the inclusion criteria for this report. Three trials, which include senior citizens living in their own housing environment, consistently report indifferent results. Eleven trials that include study populations from long-term care facilities report heterogeneous results. In some of them the obscure internal validity prevents the drawing of empirically informed conclusions. The only statistically significant reduction of hip fracture risk is reported by a trial with multiple methodological problems. Therefore, it has to be concluded that up to current knowledge the effect of supplying inhabitants of long-term care facilities with hip protectors on hip fracture risk remains unclear.

Gait stabilizing footwear: One RCT reports the effect of an anti-slip shoe device on fall risk while performing outdoor activities on icy conditions. The authors describe statistically significant positive effects in the intervention group. The result seems theoretically plausible although the methodological quality of the trial remains unclear for more than one aspect.

Vitamin D: The assessment of the effectiveness of native Vitamin D (Vitamin D2, Vitamin D3) or the active Vitamin D metabolite alfacalcidol supplementation relies on the results of 13 RCT with a relatively high internal validity. The remaining methodological problems mostly refer to unclear definitions of the fall-related endpoints. The duration of follow-up varies between three and 48 months. Varying doses of native vitamin D preparations are applied either orally or via intramuscular injection, in varying intervals and with or without calcium supplementation. Three trials report statistically significant positive, another one reports statistically significant negative effects of native Vitamin D preparations in senior citizens living in their own housing environment. There are no obvious study characteristics that explain these findings. Furthermore, the five trials from long-term care facilities also report positive results only sporadically and for selected endpoints without an obvious explanation. In the trials from long-term care facilities no adverse effects of Vitamin D medication are reported. Summarizing, it must be concluded that the available evidence yields no consistent proof of effectiveness for native Vitamin D preparations (with or without concomitant calcium supplementation) or alfacalcidol for fall prevention in senior citizens.

Dietary supplements: Two RCT report the results of two different dietary supplements (hypercaloric drinks, multivitamin preparation) on fall prevention. In both trials “fall” is just a subordinate endpoint. The trials, both with methodological problems, report a statistically insignificant lower number of falls in the intervention groups. From the available evidence it may not be concluded that hypercaloric dietary supplements or multivitamin preparations are effective for fall prevention in fragile elderly persons.

Adaptation of medication: Two RCT present results regarding the effectiveness of withdrawal of psychotropic medication for fall prevention. Both trials report statistically significant lower fall rates but no lower cumulative fall risk in the intervention groups compared to the control groups. One trial reports indifferent results concerning fracture risk. The informative value of the results is impaired by methodological as well as content related ambiguities. Therefore, on the basis of the available evidence the effectiveness of withdrawal of psychotropic medication for fall prevention remains unclear. Methodologically robust effects on clinically relevant endpoints such as fall-related injuries are lacking.

Multiple interventions: The results from eight trials, which include study populations living in their own housing environment, are inconsistent. Clinical heterogeneity of the trials along with their often obscure internal validity prevents further interpretation of discrepant results. Therefore, it remains unclear whether it is possible to effectively prevent falls by a combination of different measures in elderly citizens living in their own housing environment. The two trials with study populations from long-term care facilities indicate positive effects on fall risk but not on the risk of fall-related injuries. The low number and compromised validity of studies do not permit robust conclusions on the causality of the observed preventive effects.

Multifactorial interventions: Almost 30 trials investigate programs consisting of fall risk assessment and subsequently individually tailored interventions. The majority of these studies include community-dwelling seniors known to be at elevated risk for falls. The trials as well as their results are very heterogeneous. The investigation of heterogeneity suggests that low intensity programs (interventions are applied on a recommendation or referral basis) have no effects on fall-related endpoints. Among the trials applying high intensity programs (programs with immediate intervention after fall risk assessment) positive results are mainly reported by three types of studies: i) with compromised methodological quality, ii) with study populations with a high baseline fall risk, and iii) investigations from specific countries (Great Britain). There is no indication of an effect on the incidence of fall-related injuries. Summarizing, it must be stated that the effectiveness of multifactorial programs for fall prevention in senior citizens living in their own housing environment is not backed by empirical data. Nine trials, which investigate the effectiveness of multifactorial programs for fall prevention in long-term care facilities, present inconsistent but mostly negative results on fall risk and fall-related injuries. Their results resemble those reported for educational interventions presented to health care workers in long-term care facilities. In both types of studies, programs applied by nurses without further professional support and without additional resources turn out to be not effective. One trial even indicates elevated numbers of falls in the intervention group. Three trials do not report positive effects of multifactorial interventions in study populations with cognitive impairments.

Results – Economic evaluations

The literature searches found 21 publications addressing the economic research questions – 13 economic analyses conducted in the context of RCT and eight more or less complex modelling studies based on data from various sources. Only one economic analysis reports results from the German health care system.

Exercise to improve physical functioning: Three economic evaluations alongside clinical trials refer to the multidimensional Otago programme; one refers to a Tai-Chi intervention. The informative value of their results is strictly limited to the respective specific study context. Furthermore, it becomes clear that the results of the economic evaluations largely depend on the occurrence of fall-related injuries. However, most clinical trials are not “powered” to detect statistically significant differences concerning this endpoint. The results of one Canadian modelling study indicate that exercises may be cost saving if they are continued beyond six months. The major part of the savings results from lower expenditures for nursing care. The specific characteristics of the Canadian health care system (including prices) limit the informative value of the results for Germany.

Surgical interventions: One economic evaluation alongside a clinical trial investigates the economic implications of cataract extraction. The analyses are undertaken from the perspective of the British National Health Service (NHS) and cover the time period of one year. They are supplemented by a modelling study covering the remaining life expectation of the study population. For several reasons the results are difficult to interpret against the background of the German health care system: First, based on just one clinical trial the results concerning the effectiveness of the intervention may not be stable, second, German health care structures and costs differ from those in Great Britain, and third, to calculate QALY utilities collected in Great Britain were used.

Home modification: Two economic evaluations alongside RCT and three modelling studies investigate the cost-effectiveness of home modification interventions. Again, the evaluations alongside trials point out the dependency of cost-effectiveness results on the incidence of fall-related injuries and the imprecision of their estimate on the basis of trials with low numbers of participants. The utility of the results is furthermore compromised by methodological weaknesses, the age of the data, highly specific study populations and differences among the health care systems from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Germany. Based on different input assumptions, the three modelling studies arrive at contradictory results. To date it is not possible to draw overarching conclusions from the available evidence concerning the cost-effectiveness of home modification interventions for fall prevention.

Hip protectors: Economic consequences of providing residents of long-term care institutions with hip protectors to prevent hip fractures are investigated in one German evaluation alongside a clinical trial and in two modelling studies. The results of the German evaluation demonstrate the variability of the cost-effectiveness ratio as a result of variations in the context and utilization of care. This needs to be taken into consideration when planning an intervention. The two modelling studies use input data from an outdated evidence base.

Vitamin D: Two mathematical models estimate the cost-effectiveness of Vitamin D prophylaxis for fall prevention. Because the input data are outdated from the current point of view, their results have little meaning.

Adaptation of medication: Two economic evaluations alongside clinical trials that investigate the effects of withdrawal of psychotropic drugs for fall prevention report contradictory results. One non-randomised and by many methodological shortcomings impaired investigation from the Netherlands finds (non-plausible) positive clinical effects after two months. The second evaluation alongside a clinical trial blinds out costs for fall-related injuries – because they did not differ between study groups. Two modelling studies incorporate the clinical results of the latter trial and calculate, under consideration of costs pertaining to the treatment of fall-related injuries, marked possible savings from the perspective of a Canadian or US-American payer. Against the weak evidence base for clinical effectiveness even those authors judge their own results uncertain. Summarizing, the evidence for economic implications of fall prevention by withdrawal of psychotropic medication is quite weak.

Multiple interventions: The two available economic evaluations are concerned with community based programs that focus on preventive behaviours as well as on adaptation of the environment (e. g. roadmaking interventions). Estimates of their effectiveness are derived from controlled program evaluations in specific regions. The validity of these data is hard to judge. Quantity structures and prices for the interventions as well as for the care of fall-related injuries are taken from Swedish and Australian health care statistics. Both analyses report favourable cost-effectiveness relationships that largely depend on characteristics of the respective settings. The transfer of the results into the context of the German health care system has to be performed with caution.

Multifactorial interventions: Economic implications of multifactorial interventions are reported in two evaluations alongside clinical trials and in one modelling study. One trial based evaluation only focuses on (country specific) program costs and costs of care, as trial results show no effect on the incidence of fall-related injuries. The second trial based analysis refers to a clinical trial from 1994. Sensitivity analyses demonstrate the dependence of cost-effectiveness estimates on the baseline fall risk in the study population and on the rate of fall-related injuries prevented. The most favourable cost-effectiveness ratios are reported for high risk populations. Contrasting, on the basis of different assumptions for effectiveness the results of the modelling study demonstrate unfavourable cost-effectiveness ratios in high risk populations. These results of the economic evaluations of multifactorial interventions demonstrate that cost-effectiveness calculations need to be based on robust effectiveness data and furthermore highly depend on epidemiological and cost determining context factors.

Results – Ethical and social aspects

From the 17 publications fulfilling the inclusion criteria for the report three core themes evolved: i) factors perceived by the senior citizens to promote or to hamper the utilization of fall prevention, ii) ethical challenges of fall prevention in highly care dependent and cognitively impaired elderly, and iii) the utilization of physical restraint measures. An overarching finding is that senior citizens have an ambivalent view on fall prevention. Determining aspects are the perceived need for safety and protection from injuries on the one hand and the need to preserve autonomy and independence on the other. The willingness to comply with fall prevention depends on how an individual weights these needs. Socioeconomic characteristics such as financial resources seem to be of subordinate importance here. That the subjective interpretation of fall risk is strongly related to personal preferences has to be taken into account when measures for fall prevention are to be planned, even in the frail and cognitively impaired elderly. This finding contrasts empirical data which demonstrate that restraint measures are part of routine care in many long-term care facilities. Their application is often not based on an explicit decision making process with careful evaluation of a client’s needs and preferences and consideration of adverse effects. The results of the report indicate that restraint measures are not likely to lower fall risk or the risk of fall-related injuries.

Results – Legal aspects

The analysis of 15 publications points out three areas of concern: i) the uncertainty concerning an adequate standard for fall prevention, ii) the necessity to take into consideration individual characteristics of every single case when applying fall prevention, and iii) to preserve an individual’s right for autonomous decision making and for physical integrity at the same time. These uncertainties or difficulties, respectively, dominate jurisdiction in liability cases after fall incidents in residents of long-term care facilities. Often in these court cases interventions for fall prevention (e. g. sensor mats) are addressed for which this report fails to demonstrate effectiveness – either because of a lack of studies or because studies show indifferent results.

Discussion

Clinical effectiveness

When interpreting the clinical effectiveness data as well as the results of the economic evaluations two fundamental and inherent problems become apparent. These refer to the non-blinded assessment of fall-related endpoints and the marked heterogeneity of included studies. Fall-related endpoints are either reported by the participants themselves or, in long-term care facilities, by the staff. In most of the studies blinding against the intervention and consequently of endpoint assessment is not given (exception: Vitamin D trials). It remains unclear to what degree this problem causes biased results. Heterogeneity of included studies refers to many different aspects: e. g. the study population, the implementation of interventions, the type of control intervention and the methodological quality of the studies. A quantitative summary (metaanalysis) of the mostly heterogeneous results would have carried the risk to produce results with low or misleading informative value. Therefore, qualitative summaries are presented that also comprise descriptive analyses of potential interdependencies. When interpreting these results it has to be taken into account that analyses have been planned post-hoc (after acknowledging the evidence) and that they are not statistically backed up. Therefore they only allow the generation of hypotheses regarding the influence of context factors on the effectiveness of respective interventions.

Economic evaluations

Two types of economic evaluation studies report data on the cost-effectiveness of fall prevention: economic analyses alongside clinical trials and modelling studies based on heterogeneous data sources. They both entail specific problems that hinder the interpretation and transferability of results.

Economic evaluations alongside clinical trials reflect setting, perspective, quantity structure and prices of the specific health care system the trial is conducted in. The effect estimates are taken from the same study and therefore may not be directly transferable: interventions, which are able to reduce the number of falls in one setting, may be ineffective in another. Additionally, most studies with their rather short follow-up periods are not planned to detect effects on the most costly endpoint: fall-related injuries. Therefore most cost estimates from clinical trials are highly imprecise. The results from economic evaluations alongside clinical trials are mainly valid for their own specific context, and they are difficult to interpret due to the infrequence of the cost determining endpoint (fall-related injuries) and the resulting impreciseness of cost data.

These limitations are in part compensated by economic modelling studies: On the one hand studies of this type cover a much longer period of time, on the other hand they rely on data from national or regional epidemiologic databases for the infrequent endpoint of fall-related injuries. The quantity structure for cost estimates is derived from the structures of the respective health care system and is determined by its perspective. Therefore, compared to evaluations alongside trials, the focus of modelling studies is wider. The transferability of results into the context of a different health care system still remains problematic and is at least partly further compromised by the uncertainty of assumptions. Especially critical is the empirical basis for the effectiveness assumptions. In four of the modelling studies analysed in this report the effectiveness assumptions rely on the results of single trials, the others refer to meta-analyses. Of those, three have to be characterised as outdated and therefore incomplete. One modelling study refers to a recent meta-analysis with inadequate inclusion criteria and a heterogeneous study pool. Summarizing, it must be stated that the economic modelling studies counterbalance some of the disadvantages of analyses alongside trials but still do not offer the basis for valid and transferable statements on the cost-effectiveness of fall prevention in the German health care system.

Conclusion and research needs

Clinical effectiveness: The effectiveness of most interventions applied for fall prevention remains unclear. Empirical evidence suggests that two types of interventions (training, home modification) might be effective in reducing the fall risk for specific subpopulation of senior citizens. There is no evidence that any of the interventions investigated is able to reduce the risk of fall-related injuries. In the light of the large number of available studies the main reasons for the unsatisfactory conclusions are the marked clinical and methodological heterogeneity of the studies along with their often obscure internal validity. These factors prevent a conclusive synthesis of the data and an overarching interpretation. This report reveals that current recommendations regarding fall prevention in the elderly only partially reflect the available empirical evidence. In future, evidence-based recommendations need to put a stronger focus on the dependency of possible effects on characteristics of the target population and contextual factors.

From the problems pointed out in this report, requirements for future studies may be derived in order to improve the evidence base for the conception of care in Germany and countries with a similar health care system. These requirements include that study populations need to be recruited based on plausible hypotheses, interventions concerning everyday routines become more often object of evaluation (there are some promising but still preliminary results, e. g. concerning the withdrawal of psychotropic medications), clinically relevant endpoints (fall-related injuries) are preferred for evaluation, and study designs are used which both assure protection against bias and transferability of results into routine care.

Economic evaluations: Except for one economic evaluation performed in Germany alongside a clinical trial investigating the effectiveness of provision of hip protectors plus specific staff training, there is only little information gained from the available economic evaluations that is of informative value for the context of the German health care system. Precise analyses require input from German data sources either in form of more evaluations performed alongside trials or, if the empirical base for effectiveness assumption is sufficient, epidemiological and cost data from routine data sources.

Ethical and social aspects: The perceived need for fall prevention depends on preferences and experiences of the individual. These subjective preferences should be taken into consideration even if the individual is not able to articulate them explicitly because of cognitive deficits. While in practice application of physical restraint measures is often expected to reduce falls and fall-related injuries, this assumption is not supported by the available empirical evidence, meaning that restraint measures do rather not prevent falls. This finding points out the need for initiatives to reduce the application of restraint measures.

Legal aspects: The assessment of fall risk and fall prevention from a legal point of view is characterized by a number of uncertainties. These result from the difficult differentiation of fall risk from general life risk and the vague empirical information on the effectiveness of preventive interventions. The report presented here may in future guide the assessment of appropriateness of care undertaken for fall prevention. Taking the lack of robust and consistent effectiveness data into account, it has to be expected that uncertainties regarding any standardisation of fall prevention will remain.