Research Article: Falls among community-dwelling older adults in Ethiopia; A preliminary cross-sectional study

Date Published: September 10, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Balamurugan Janakiraman, Melaku Hailu Temesgen, Gashaw Jember, Asmare Yitayeh Gelaw, Berihu Fisseha Gebremeskel, Hariharasudhan Ravichandran, Emnet Worku, Yohannes Abich, Fekadu Yilak, Misganaw Belay, Young Dae Kwon.


Falls among older adults is a common precipitating factor for unintentional injuries and represent a major health problem associated with increased morbidity, mortality, and health care cost in low-and-middle-income countries. The burden of fall in this population is well established in high-income countries and scant attention is given to this precipitating factor in low-and-middle-income countries, including Ethiopia. Therefore, this study aimed to estimate the prevalence and factors associated with fall among community-dwelling older adults in Ethiopia.

A community-based cross-sectional study was conducted among community-dwelling older adults of Gondar. Multi-stage random sampling technique was used across administrative areas. Six hundred and five households were selected proportionally using systematic random sampling technique. Physical measurement and face to face interview method were employed using a structured questionnaire for data collection. Data were analyzed descriptively and through uni- and multivariate logistic regression model.

One hundred and seventy (n = 170, 28.4%; 95% CI 24.7–32.1) community-dwelling older adults reported having experienced fall in the past 12 months. Sex (OR = 1.91, 95% CI: 1.24–2.95), low educational status (OR = 2.37, 95% CI: 1.19–4.74), uncomfortable home environment (OR = 2.02, 95% CI: 1.34, 3.04), having diagnosed medical condition (OR = 4.659, 95% CI: 1.20–18.02), and use of medication (OR = 5.57, 95% CI: 1.19–26.21) were significantly associated risk factors of self-reported fall in the past 12 months. Most outdoor falls are associated with females and participants aged below 66 years.

In conclusion, more than 1/4th of the community-dwelling older adults experienced at least one episode of fall and about 60% of them reported recurrent falls. Identifying risk group and risk factors that could be modified so as to prevent falls in older adults deserves attention. Outdoor falls are usually attributable to modifiable environmental aspects and improvements in outdoor environment needed.

Partial Text

Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injuries and even premature death among community-dwelling older adults (CDOA) [1]. Falls are really a serious public health problem and are also the largest single cause of restricted activity and low life quality among older adults but usually a neglected public health problem in many societies, particularly in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) [2,3]. About 80% of disability resulting from unintentional injuries; which excludes traffic accidents in adults aged 50 years and over resulted from falls in the year 2010. In that year, years lived with disability due to fall in people aged 50 to 59 years was 66% in developing countries and 34% in high-income countries [4, 5]. Aging-related physical and mental changes along with other multifactorial variables increase the susceptibility and suffering of fall among older adults. Even in the absence of injury; a fall has potential consequences on quality of life due to fear of falling and, restricted activity to avoid falling again together with psychological changes like little confidence to get out [6,7]. World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the burden of non-intentional injuries are disproportionately higher in developing countries and older adults are at higher risk [8]. Reported results from the WHO Study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE) from six countries including two sub-Saharan countries showed that two-thirds of all past-year injuries in older adults were fall-related and also suggested that data on falls among CDOA in LMICs is sparse [9]. The prevalence rate of falls among CDOA reported in the community-based studies done in Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Ghana range from 23% to 44% with a diverse definition for older adults across these studies [2]. Studies had reported a wide range of risk factors for falls in older adults like age gender, muscle weakness, gait disturbance, impaired balance, impaired vision, poor sleep pattern, depression, Parkinson’s, stroke, diabetes mellitus (DM), hypertension (HTN), dementia, and impaired cognition. Older adults living in LMICs encounter other risk factors like lack of awareness delayed health care, inadequate lighting, challenging outdoor environment, poor housing facilities, low education level, nutritional deficiency, and co-morbid [3,10,11]. In addition, the extensive variation found across studies among different countries and even within the same country clarifies the differential interaction of socio-economical, geographical and ethnic factors with the prevalence and risk factors of fall and the need for regional data [12,13]. Even though several literatures urge that the Governments in LMICs urgently require data and evidence to develop awareness, and integrate falls prevention into their policy and planning frameworks [2,14–17]; there is still a lack of data, on magnitude of falls among community-dwelling adults in most of the LMICs and till date there is no formal community based falls register and follow up data in Ethiopia as a whole. Hence, this study aims to determine the burden of self-reported past-year unintentional fall among CDOA of Gondar town in Ethiopia and identify the risk factors of fall.

Data were coded and entered into Epi Info software version 7.0 and IBM Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 24 for Windows for statistical analyses. Data entry with the original data was done by the data collectors and the principal investigator supervising each other to enhance correctness. In addition, the data was checked by two other researchers for completeness, accuracy, and clarity. Descriptive statistics (frequencies, percentages, means and standard deviations (SD) were used for all participant characteristics and associated factors of self-reported falls. With self-reported falls (categories: no versus yes) as the dependent variable, bivariate and multivariate binary logistic regression analyses were executed to examine the association with different independent variables. Independent variables included in the regression models were, age (categorized 50 65 middle-aged, 66 80 older and > 80 fragile), BMI (categorized underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese), educational status (categorized not educated, primary, secondary, Diploma and above), safety of home environment (categorized comfortable versus uncomfortable), self-perceived current level of mobility (categorized independent versus dependent), frequency of fall (categorized one, two, three, and many times), self-reported presence of medical conditions like hypertension, CVD, stroke, poor memory, visual impairment, poor urine control (categorized no versus yes), and poor sleeping (categorized no versus yes). Variables were inputted into the model using forced entry and categories were used as covariates for detailed analyses. Results were considered statistically significant when 95% confidence intervals not containing unity (equal to p-value <0.05) for interaction terms and main effects. Initially, bivariate analyses were conducted and independent variables that were found statistically significant were included in multivariate analysis. When clear subgroups seemed present in the data, significance testing (Pearson χ2) and, if appropriately sized subgroups per category remained, logistic regression was performed. To our knowledge, this is a preliminary community-based study in the country to concurrently estimate the magnitude of fall and describe the relationships between fall and risk factors in community-dwelling older adults in Ethiopia. The results of the present study indicate that 28.4% of community-dwelling older adults aged 50 years or older sustained fall each year in Ethiopia. Among them, about 39.1% reported having occasional falls and 60.9% recurrent falls. The finding of the present study is within the global annual fall rate which is between 6% and 35% [8,22,23]. The reported rate of fall appears to vary among countries; in South-East Asia region, in China, and Japan, 6–31% and 20% respectively [24], Latin American and Caribbean region, the fall rates reported were 21.6% and 34% respectively [8]. In the Sub-Saharan region; the reported fall rate of Nigerian older adults is 23% and 44% in Ghana [2,25]. The definition for older adult widely varied among the studies and more so the fall rate and factors associated among the older population in Ethiopia is not reported elsewhere. The result of this study is higher when compared to the studies done in Malaysia 4.1%, Japan 15.9%, Hong Kong 19.3%, and twelve European countries 7.9–16.2% [22,24–28]. The possible explanations could be reflecting medical conditions, geographical challenges of mountain terrain of the study area, and study population differences compared to other countries. In this study, more than half of the recruited participants (53.3%) reported being diagnosed with one or more medical conditions. Frail, elderly people with more than one chronic illness experience higher rates of falls than active healthy older people [5,15]. The prevalence reported in this study is much lower than self-reported falls of Mexican and Jamaican community-dwelling older adults 46.5% and 51.5% [29,30]. This could possibly be due to the lower mean age of participants in this study. Around 3/4th of the participants (73.5%) in this study were aged 50–65 years. In Mexico fall was assessed for the previous two years, all participants’ were aged 60 years and above, and the mean age of all those who experienced a fall was 71.4 years. Different epidemiological studies describe multi-factorial risks for fall among elders [2,5,28]. According to WHO, there are four dimensions; biological, behavioral, environmental and socioeconomic factors [8]. In agreement with previous studies [4,10,26], this study also found that women were more likely than men to have double folded magnitude of fall and recurrent falls. In this study female gender was also one point nine times higher risk of fall as compared to the male which is likewise studies in Mexico, Rwanda, and Indonesia [9,29,31]. The reasons might be gender-specific physiologic changes like sarcopenia, decreased strength, loss of bone density, and social reasons leading to more falls and related injuries [32]. Similarly, in Ethiopia females are involved in over half of the farm activities, bear most of the responsibilities in the household, and income generation [33,34]. Furthermore, women being frailer, live longer than men, and involved in heavy household works partly explains their susceptibility to falling and more so indoor falls [4,35]. The finding of this study shows that uneducated community-dwelling elders are twice more likely to fall than their educated counterpart. Lower education level as a possible predictor of fall among elders is reported by studies elsewhere [2,5,36]. One possible reason might be low education status and/or uneducated elders may lack a proper understanding of aging consequences and relative life adjustment needed. It is known that drastic change in educational attainment leads to greater improvement in the elder’s health [37]. Moreover, fall data among uneducated older are scant in studies from developed countries [26–28] unlike in this study nearly 40% of the participants are uneducated. CDOA those who reported living in an uncomfortable environment have two times more risk of falling than those reported living in comfortable environments. With older adults of this study reported spending little time outdoors compared to indoors, it is surprising that we found the frequency of outdoor falls were higher compared with indoor falls among CDOA in the study area which possibly explains the challenges of mountain terrain. Similar findings were reported by studies done in California and Norway [22,37]. It is particularly striking because leisure-time physical activity was not associated with fall in this study. Another unexpected finding in this study is women reported more outdoor falls and the most likely reason could be women engaging in more outdoor activities to fulfill domestic needs of households. It is understandable that outdoor falls are most probably caused by environmental challenges along with intrinsic risk factors. The study place, Gondar is located 2133 meters above sea level with geographical challenges for access to domestic needs, facilities and walking [38]. Furthermore, in developing countries like Ethiopia environments pose challenges like uneven roads, lack of designed walkways, sidewalks, lack of street lights, more stairs or tripping, and slipping hazards. About 70% of CDOA in this study self-reported of being diagnosed with at least one comorbid, the presence of comorbid contribute to an elevated prevalence of falls and five folds higher risks of falls than of healthy elders. This association is consistent with the studies in South Africa and Egypt [39,40]. The possible explanations could be various medical conditions like vision problem, foot problems cardiovascular issues and motor performance deficits for older adults appear due to dysfunction and reduced coordination of the central and peripheral nervous systems and the neuromuscular system are implicated to increase an individual’s risk of falling [39,41]. Though unlike elsewhere, we found no association with fall and self-reported dizziness and vertigo which is difficult to explain. The number of medications taken, unlike in other studies was significantly associated risk factors with falls in this study [22,42,43]. Elders those using medications for their conditions are twice at the risk of falling compared to non-users. This finding is similar to few studies in high-income countries, South Africa, and Egypt [27,39,40]. An association between use of medications and fall risk may depend on the prescribing habits of health practitioners (type of medications commonly taken by the subjects), the site of action of the drug and adverse effects of the drugs. There is increasing evidence that poly-pharmacy may lead to falls as a result of adverse reactions to one or more medications, detrimental drug interaction, and/or incorrect use [42,43]. The variety of classes of medications prescribed, which results in insufficient numbers of individuals taking a particular class of drug, hampers meaningful contribution to the analyses of the individual drug classes [19,35,44, 45]. To benefit future researches and interpreting the present result with caution the limitations must be mentioned. First, because of the cross-sectional nature of this study, we cannot determine the causal effects. Moreover, self-reports of socio-demographic, health characteristics and medical diagnoses by older adults may be a source of recall bias. Second, data on specific medications, nutritional status, fall-related risk-taking behavior, and housing conditions were not investigated. Despite these limitations, this study is a preliminary attempt in this country to provide a well-powered insight and estimate the prevalence of fall and to examine characteristics associated among CDOA in Ethiopia. In addition in this study, the definition of older adults being aged 50 years and above is according to the recommendations of World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) and WHO Older adult Health and Ageing in Africa project. We strongly feel that these data will more accurately determine the fall burden of the older population in the study region and would fully inform policy makers and program planners. In conclusion, more than 1/4th of the CDOA experienced at least one episode of fall and about 60% of them reported recurrent falls. Factors like comorbid, medication, self-reported poor memory and poor urine control explained fall among CDOA partly. Additional factors that may help explain fall in CDOA should be explored in the future. In the meantime, town authorities are recommended to maintain preventable environmental risk factors related to outdoor falls. Caretakers, older adults, and family members should be made aware of the possible risk factors and modifications needed to avoid fall.   Source: