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.


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.


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.


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.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in BMC Geriatrics, v. 21, article no. 710.

© The Author(s) 2021

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Funding Information

This research was supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) Contracts N01-AG-6-2101; N01-AG-6-2103; N01-AG-6-2106; NIA Grant R01-AG028050, NIH/NIA R01-AG061136, and National Institute of Nursing Research Grant R01-NR12459; in part by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, NIA; and NIA Aging Training Grant T32 AG000181-26.

Related Content

The data that supports the findings of this study are available from NIA but restrictions apply to the availability of these data, which were used under license for the current study, and so are not publicly available. Data are however available from the authors upon reasonable request and with permission of NIA.

12877_2021_2695_MOESM1_ESM.docx (21 kB)
Additional file: Supplementary Table S1. Drug list of fall risk increasing drugs. Supplementary Table S2. Adjusted hazard ratios of persistent polypharmacy and FRID on fall injury in the sensitivity analyses. Supplementary Table S3. Adjusted hazard ratios for persistent polypharmacy with varied cut points for medication counts and fall injury risk.