Falls in the elderly. I. Identification of risk factors.
Falls severely threaten the health of elderly persons and pose high costs to the public health service. Unfortunately, falls are often regarded as unavoidable and untreatable features of aging. Therefore, many clinicians merely treat the physical injuries of a fall. However, falls and gait limitations are markers of underlying (sometimes otherwise subclinical) diseases that can be amenable to treatment. Moreover, falls and gait limitations herald the onset of repeated falls, physical decline, serious psychosocial consequences and a reduced survival. We review how clinically relevant risk factors can be traced by reviewing the medical notes, by careful history taking and by physical examination. The identified risk factors can serve as a template for the design of prevention strategies, which are discussed in the companion article.