Risk Factors for Falls in Older Adults Experiencing Homelessness: Results from the HOPE HOME Cohort Study

Abstract [from journal]

Background: More than half of homeless adults are of age ≥ 50 years. Falls are a common cause of morbidity in older adults in the general population. Risk factors for falls in the general population include poor health, alcohol use, and exposure to unsafe environments. Homeless adults aged ≥ 50 have a high prevalence of known risk factors and face additional potential risks.

Objectives: To examine the prevalence of and risk of falling in a cohort of older homeless adults.

Design: Longitudinal cohort study with participant interviews every 6 months for 3 years; data were analyzed using generalized estimating equations (GEEs).

Participants: Three hundred fifty adults aged ≥ 50, homeless at study entry, recruited via population-based sampling.

Measures: The dependent variable is any falls in prior 6 months; independent variables include individual (i.e., illness, behaviors) and social/environmental (i.e., social support, experiencing violence, living unsheltered) factors.

Results: Over three quarters of participants were men (77.1%) and Black (79.7%). The median age was 58 (IQR 54, 61). At baseline, one third (33.7%) reported a fall in the prior 6 months. At follow-up visits, 23.1% to 31.2% of participants reported having fallen. In GEE models, individual risk factors (non-Black race, being a women, older age, functional impairment, urinary incontinence, history of stroke, and use of assistive devices, opioid, and marijuana) were associated with increased odds of falls. Environmental and social factors (spending any nights unsheltered (adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 1.42, CI = 1.10-1.83) and experiencing physical assault (AOR = 1.67, CI = 1.18-2.37) were also associated.

Conclusions: Older homeless adults fall frequently. Likely contributors include having a high prevalence of conditions that increase the risk of falls, compounded by heightened exposure to unsafe environments. Fall prevention in this population should target those at highest risk and address modifiable environmental conditions. Providing shelter or housing and addressing substance use could reduce morbidity from falls in homeless older adults.a