Objectives To evaluate the evidence for strategies to prevent falls or fractures in residents in care homes and hospital inpatients and to investigate the effect of dementia and cognitive impairment. Design Systematic review and meta-analyses of studies grouped by intervention and setting (hospital or care home). Meta-regression to investigate the effects of dementia and of study quality and design. Data sources Medline, CINAHL, Embase, PsychInfo, Cochrane Database, Clinical Trials Register, and hand searching of references from reviews and guidelines to January 2005. Results 1207 references were identified, including 115 systematic reviews, expert reviews, or guidelines. Of the 92 full papers inspected, 43 were included. Meta-analysis for multifaceted interventions in hospital (13 studies) showed a rate ratio of 0.82 (95% confidence interval 0.68 to 0.997) for falls but no significant effect on the number of fallers or fractures. For hip protectors in care homes (11 studies) the rate ratio for hip fractures was 0.67 (0.46 to 0.98), but there was no significant effect on falls and not enough studies on fallers. For all other interventions (multifaceted interventions in care homes; removal of physical restraints in either setting; fall alarm devices in either setting; exercise in care homes; calcium/vitamin D in care homes; changes in the physical environment in either setting; medication review in hospital) meta-analysis was either unsuitable because of insufficient studies or showed no significant effect on falls, fallers, or fractures, despite strongly positive results in some individual studies. Meta-regression showed no significant association between effect size and prevalence of dementia or cognitive impairment. Conclusion There is some evidence that multifaceted interventions in hospital reduce the number of falls and that use of hip protectors in care homes prevents hip fractures. There is insufficient evidence, however, for the effectiveness of other single interventions in hospitals or care homes or multifaceted interventions in care homes.