Falls and fall-related injuries (FRI) are common and costly occurrences among older adults living in the community, with increased risk for those with physical and cognitive limitations. Caregivers provide support for older adults with physical functioning limitations, which are associated with fall risk.
Using the 2004-2012 waves of the Health and Retirement Study, we examined whether receipt of low (0-13 weekly hours) and high levels (≥14 weekly hours) of informal care or any formal care is associated with lower risk of falls and FRIs among community-dwelling older adults. We additionally tested whether serious physical functioning (≥3 activities of daily living) or cognitive limitations moderated this relationship.
Caregiving receipt categories were jointly significant in predicting noninjurious falls (P=0.03) but not FRIs (P=0.30). High levels of informal care category (P=0.001) and formal care (P<0.001) had stronger associations with reduced fall risk relative to low levels of informal care. Among individuals with ≥3 activities of daily living, fall risks were reduced by 21% for those receiving high levels of informal care; additionally, FRIs were reduced by 42% and 58% for those receiving high levels of informal care and any formal care. High levels of informal care receipt were also associated with a 54% FRI risk reduction among the cognitively impaired.
Fall risk reductions among older adults occurred predominantly among those with significant physical and cognitive limitations. Accordingly, policy efforts involving fall prevention should target populations with increased physical functioning and cognitive limitations. They should also reduce financial barriers to informal and formal caregiving.