The purpose of the study was to determine the prevalence rate of fallers (PRF%) and fall-related consequences among the elderly according to age, gender and setting. Data derive from a cross-sectional study on dementia, depression and handicaps among the elderly, carried out between 1995 and 1996. Elderly people aged 65 and over living in Zurich or Geneva were considered eligible for the study. By means of the Canberra Interview for the Elderly, 921 subjects' and/or informants' interviews were completed. The subjects were classified as a faller if the subject and/or informant reported a fall in the year prior to the interview. Overall PRF% amounted to 27.8% and was higher to a statistically significant degree among females (30.9%) than males (22.5%). Gender difference in PRF was found only among the non-institutionalized elderly. Age-specific PRF increased significantly with the age of the elderly. However, this increase was observed only among male subjects. 143 subjects (PRF 17.1%) have fallen once and 101 (PRF 9.9%) two or more times. Females showed a substantially higher propensity to recurrent falls (age-adjusted OR 1.86; 95% confidence interval 1.11-3.10). While the risk of suffering two or more falls increased with age, it did not increase among one-time fallers. Residents of nursing homes had significantly higher risk of falling as compared with home-dwelling subjects (age-adjusted OR 2.46; 95% confidence interval 1.04-5.78). Every second fall caused fall-related consequences. 9.1% of all falls led to fall-related fracture. The risk of suffering fall-related consequences depended on neither age nor gender. One third of fallers reported fear of further falling. Falls among the elderly occur often and contribute substantially to morbidity.