PORTLAND, OR – Multiple sclerosis patients have a high incidence of falls with research indicating that more than 50% of them fall in a three- to six-month period and around 30% to 50% fall multiple times.

Because those falls can be associated with injury or even death, patients sometimes reduce their activity and community participation because of fear of taking a tumble. That’s why a study led by researchers from the Portland, OR, VAMC, decided to compare the risk, circumstances, consequences and causes of prospectively recorded falls between MS patients and healthy controls of similar age and gender.

For the study, published online recently by PLoS ONE, 58 MS patients and 58 healthy controls, all community-dwelling, were recruited for a six-month prospective cohort study. With 90% of the MS patients and 84% of healthy controls completing the study, participants documented falls on a calendar, noting the location where the mishap occurred, related injuries and the cause. 1

Results indicate that 40.8% of controls and 71.2% of the MS patients fell at least once, and 48.1% of the MS patients and 18.4% of healthy controls fell at least twice. Fall-related injuries occurred in 42.3% of the MS group and 20.4% of healthy controls.

After adjusting for age and gender, the time to first fall and the time to recurrent falls were significantly different between the MS patients and healthy controls. While the MS group reported an almost equal number of falls inside and outside, 86% of the falls in healthy controls were outside. Healthy controls also were more likely to fall due to a slippery surface (39.5% vs. 10.4%). For the MS patients, falls were often attributed to distraction (31% vs 7%) and fatigue or heat, which were not contributors to falls in the healthy group.

“Fall risk, circumstances, consequences, and causes are different for [people with MS] than for healthy people of the same age and gender,” the authors concluded, noting that MS patients fall more often, are more likely to be injured and often slip indoors. They also note the role of distraction, fatigue or heat in falls in that group.

  • 1 Mazumder R, Murchison C, Bourdette D, Cameron M (2014) Falls in People with Multiple Sclerosis Compared with Falls in Healthy Controls. PLoS ONE 9(9): e107620. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0107620.