AIM Falling is a serious medical problem for elderly persons. This study was done to look at prevalence and risk factors for falls in community dwelling elderly in Singapore. METHOD A random sample of 3,000 persons aged 60 years and above was chosen from a database based on the 1990 population census. Letters were sent out to 2,582 subjects who had local and complete addresses. In the letter, they were informed about the purpose of the survey, and invited to participate in a questionnaire and clinical health screening at an appointed date at a polyclinic. Participants were reminded the day before their appointment by telephone, and a new appointment could be given at the subject's convenience. RESULTS We found a prevalence rate of falls of 17.2%. Two-thirds of these had single falls, while one-third had recurrent falls, defined as having more than one fall within the previous one year. The following factors were found to be significantly associated with increase falling in the elderly: age > or = 75 years (O.R. = 1.82, 95% C.I. 0.95-3.50), female sex (O.R. = 2.5, 95% C.I. 1.40-4.48), Malay race (O.R. = 2.66, 95% C.I. 1.21-5.86), poor vision (O.R. = 1.7, 95% C.I. 0.99-2.90), Barthel's score of less than 20 (O.R. = 1.76, 95% C.I. 0.94-3.28), those taking 2 or more drugs daily (O.R. = 2.1, 95% C.I. 1.22-3.72) and the presence of hypertension (O.R. = 1.78, 95% C.I. 1.06-3.01). Fall rate is also twice as high in women as in men. At the same time, we found that women in the group we studied also tend to exercise less than the men. Fallers also had significantly more mobility and activities of daily living (ADL) disabilities (reflected by a lower Barthel's score) and this is consistent with other results. The only factor that reduced the risk of falling was regular exercise (O.R. = 1.64, 95% C.I. 0.93-2.93). CONCLUSION In our study, we found differences between the group with single and recurrent falls. In the group with single falls, the fall tend to occur outdoors (O.R. = 2.97, 95% C.I. 1.03-8.60) and during the day (O.R. = 3.47, 95% C.I. 1.20-10.0), tend to be accidental (O.R. = 3.16, 95% C.I. 1.05-9.50) and tend to seek medical attention (O.R. = 3.68, 95% C.I. 1.23-11.0). Overall, 32 persons (46.4%) seek medical treatment after their falls, and of these, 65.6% were women. Risk factors for falls should be screened for all elderly.