Persistent polypharmacy and fall injury risk: the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study

Lingshu Xue, Robert M. Boudreau, Julie M. Donohue, Janice C. Zgibor, Zachary A. Marcum, Tina Costacou, Anne B. Newman, Teresa M. Waters, Elsa S. Strotmeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Older adults receive treatment for fall injuries in both inpatient and outpatient settings. The effect of persistent polypharmacy (i.e. using multiple medications over a long period) on fall injuries is understudied, particularly for outpatient injuries. We examined the association between persistent polypharmacy and treated fall injury risk from inpatient and outpatient settings in community-dwelling older adults. Methods: The Health, Aging and Body Composition Study included 1764 community-dwelling adults (age 73.6 ± 2.9 years; 52% women; 38% black) with Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) claims at or within 6 months after 1998/99 clinic visit. Incident fall injuries (N = 545 in 4.6 ± 2.9 years) were defined as the initial claim with an ICD-9 fall E-code and non-fracture injury, or fracture code with/without a fall code from 1998/99 clinic visit to 12/31/08. Those without fall injury (N = 1219) were followed for 8.1 ± 2.6 years. Stepwise Cox models of fall injury risk with a time-varying variable for persistent polypharmacy (defined as ≥6 prescription medications at the two most recent consecutive clinic visits) were adjusted for demographics, lifestyle characteristics, chronic conditions, and functional ability. Sensitivity analyses explored if persistent polypharmacy both with and without fall risk increasing drugs (FRID) use were similarly associated with fall injury risk. Results: Among 1764 participants, 636 (36%) had persistent polypharmacy over the follow-up period, and 1128 (64%) did not. Fall injury incidence was 38 per 1000 person-years. Persistent polypharmacy increased fall injury risk (hazard ratio [HR]: 1.31 [1.06, 1.63]) after adjusting for covariates. Persistent polypharmacy with FRID use was associated with a 48% increase in fall injury risk (95%CI: 1.10, 2.00) vs. those who had non-persistent polypharmacy without FRID use. Risks for persistent polypharmacy without FRID use (HR: 1.22 [0.93, 1.60]) and non-persistent polypharmacy with FRID use (HR: 1.08 [0.77, 1.51]) did not significantly increase compared to non-persistent polypharmacy without FRID use. Conclusions: Persistent polypharmacy, particularly combined with FRID use, was associated with increased risk for treated fall injuries from inpatient and outpatient settings. Clinicians may need to consider medication management for FRID and other fall prevention strategies in community-dwelling older adults with persistent polypharmacy to reduce fall injury risk.

Original languageEnglish
Article number710
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • FRID
  • Falls
  • Geriatrics
  • Medicare
  • Medication
  • Persistent polypharmacy
  • Treated fall injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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