Anticholinergic burden measures and older people's falls risk: a systematic prognostic review.

Carrie Stewart* (Corresponding Author), Martin Taylor-Rowan, Roy Soiza, Terence J Quinn, Yoon Kong Loke, Phyo Kyaw Myint

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Introduction: Several adverse outcomes have been associated with anticholinergic burden (ACB), and these risks increase with age. Several approaches to measuring this burden are available but, to date, no comparison of their prognostic abilities has been conducted. This PROSPERO-registered systematic review (CRD42019115918) compared the evidence behind ACB measures in relation to their ability to predict risk of falling in older people.

Methods: Medline (OVID), EMBASE (OVID), CINAHL (EMBSCO) and PsycINFO (OVID) were searched using comprehensive search terms and a validated search filter for prognostic studies. Inclusion criteria included: participants aged 65 years and older, use of one or more ACB measure(s) as a prognostic factor, cohort or case-control in design, and reporting falls as an outcome. Risk of bias was assessed using the Quality in Prognosis Studies (QUIPS) tool.

Results: Eight studies reporting temporal associations between ACB and falls were included. All studies were rated high risk of bias in ⩾1 QUIPS tool categories, with five rated high risk ⩾3 categories. All studies (274,647 participants) showed some degree of association between anticholinergic score and increased risk of falls. Findings were most significant with moderate to high levels of ACB. Most studies (6/8) utilised the anticholinergic cognitive burden scale. No studies directly compared two or more ACB measures and there was variation in how falls were measured for analysis.

Conclusion: The evidence supports an association between moderate to high ACB and risk of falling in older people, but no conclusion can be made regarding which ACB scale offers best prognostic value in older people.

Plain language summary: A review of published studies to explore which anticholinergic burden scale is best at predicting the risk of falls in older people Introduction: One third of older people will experience a fall. Falls have many consequences including fractures, a loss of independence and being unable to enjoy life. Many things can increase the chances of having a fall. This includes some medications. One type of medication, known as anticholinergic medication, may increase the risk of falls. These medications are used to treat common health issues including depression and bladder problems. Anticholinergic burden is the term used to describe the total effects from taking these medications. Some people may use more than one of these medications. This would increase their anticholinergic burden. It is possible that reducing the use of these medications could reduce the risk of falls. We need to carry out studies to see if this is possible. To do this, we need to be able to measure anticholinergic burden. There are several scales available, but we do not know which is best.Methods: We wanted to answer: 'Which anticholinergic scale is best at predicting the risk of falling in older people?'. We reviewed studies that could answer this. We did this in a systematic way to capture all published studies. We restricted the search in several ways. We only included studies relevant to our question.Results: We found eight studies. We learned that people who are moderate to high users of these medications (often people who will use more than one of these medications) had a higher risk of falling. It was less clear if people who have a lower burden (often people who only use one of these medications) had an increased risk of falling. The low number of studies prevented us from determining if one scale was better than another.Conclusion: These findings suggest that we should reduce use of these medications. This could reduce the number falls and improve the well-being of older people.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalTherapeutic Advances in Drug Safety
Early online date31 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the Dunhill Medical Trust (grant number RPGF1806/66).
We thank Ms Kaisa Yrjana and Ms Mitrysha Kishor greatly for their help during the study search and screening phases of this review.


  • adverse outcomes
  • anticholinergics
  • measurement scales
  • older adults
  • prognostic study


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