Falls risk assessment and intervention for people with intellectual disability: A systematic literature review and implications for practice

Dr Aislinn Lalor1, Ms Tamsin Gallie2, Professor Keith Hill1, Associate Professor Libby Callaway1, Dr Stella Koritsas2, Ms Andrea Curran-Bennett2, Mr Richard Wong2, Ms Rachele Zannier2

1Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, 2Scope, Melbourne, Australia

Individuals with intellectual disability are at high risk of falls, however, very little research has focussed on understanding falls risk factors and prevention in this group. The aim of this project was to conduct a systematic review to identify falls risk assessment tools specifically for people with intellectual disability, interventions that aim to reduce falls, and falls risk factors unique to people with intellectual disability.

A systematic literature review of both the academic and non-academic literature was undertaken. Allied health and assistive technology member forums were also contacted regarding emerging interventions. Three reviewers independently screened the titles and abstracts of the relevant literature, and two individuals reviewed and analysed the full text literature.

Of 1877 studies that met the broad search criteria, 46 were eligible for in-depth review. Various risk assessment tools were identified, however there was limited documentation of use specific to intellectual disability. Evidence about interventions to prevent falls in people with intellectual disability was limited, and low quality. A combination of risk factors is associated with falls, including age, impaired cognition, polypharmacy, incontinence, increased history of falls, and seizures.

The results of the systematic review highlight the need for falls risk screening tools to be developed specifically for use with people with intellectual disability. It also highlights the need for organisational falls prevention policies and environmental/safety assessments, and best practice guidelines to be developed in relation to falls assessment and management.


Tamsin Gallie is Clinical Practice Advisor at Scope. She is a physiotherapist with 26 years’ experience specialising in neuro-rehabilitation.