The incidence of falls, prevalence of fear of falling and fall risk factors in adults with rheumatoid arthritis.

Student thesis: Phd


The objectives of the study were to determine the incidence of falls, the prevalence of fear of falling and fall risk factors and consequences in adults with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). 559 community dwelling adults with RA, aged 18 to 88 years (mean age 62; 69% female) participated in this prospective cohort study. Patients were recruited from four outpatient clinics in the Northwest of England and followed for 1 year after clinical assessment, using monthly falls calendars and telephone calls. Outcome measures included fall occurrence, reason for fall, type and severity of injuries, fractures, fall location, lie-times, use of health services and functional ability. Risk factors for falls included lower limb muscle strength, postural stability, number of swollen and tender joints, functional status, history of falling, fear of falling, pain, fatigue and medication. Data on demographics, vision, co-morbidities, history of surgery, fractures, and joint replacements were also recorded.535 participants followed for one year had a total of 598 falls. 36.4% participants (95% CI 32% to 41%) reported falling with an incidence rate of 1313/1000 person-years at risk or 1.11 falls per person. Over one third of the falls were reportedly caused by hips, knees or ankle joints giving way. Over half of all the falls resulted in moderate injuries, including head injuries (n=27) and fractures (n=26). Univariate logistic regression showed that falls risk was independent of age and gender. A history of falls in the previous one year was a strong medical fall predictor with an odds ratio (OR) for a single fall=3.3 and for multiple falls OR=4.3. Fear of falling was an important self-reported psychological predictor, with the risk increasing by 10% with each point above 7 (up to 28) in the Short FES-I score. The inability to complete the Four Test Balance Scale due to poor balance was a strong postural fall predictor (OR 2.3). The most significant functional predictor of falls was the functional Health Assessment Questionnaire score, and each additional point attained in the score (1-4) nearly doubled the risk of further falls. Multivariate logistic regression revealed that when taken in combination with other factors, a history of multiple falls in the previous one year was the most significant predictive risk factor (OR=5.3) and overall the model accounted for 71% of variation. The most significant modifiable risk factors were swollen and tender lower limb joints (hip, knee and ankle) (OR=1.7), psychotropic medication (OR=1.8) and increasing fatigue (OR=1.13) with this model accounting for 68% of variation.Adults of all ages with RA are at high risk of falls and fall-related injuries, fractures and head injuries. In clinical practice, high risk falls patients with RA can be identified by asking whether patients have fallen in the past year. The management of swollen and tender lower limb joints, fatigue and consideration of psychotropic medicines may be the most effective strategy to reduce falls in this group of patients. Fear of falling, pain, lower limb strength and poor balance are other useful clinical indicators that may be modified to prevent falls.
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorChristopher Todd (Supervisor), Jacqueline Oldham (Supervisor) & Dawn Skelton (Supervisor)


  • falls
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • fear of falling
  • fall risk factors

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