Of the most common medications prescribed to older adults, many may increase the risk of a fall and subsequent injuries. This is the finding of researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.
One-third of Americans older than 65 take a tumble each year, and falling represents the largest source of fatal and nonfatal injury among older adults. Preventing falls in this population remains a top priority for health-care providers and caregivers alike.
Jette Moller, study author and lecturer with the Department of Public Health Sciences at Karolinska, points out that a person’s age, sex and health condition(s) can all compound fall risk, though these factors are largely uncontrollable. On the other hand, proper medication management could be a simple way to improve an older adult’s chances of staying safely on her feet.
Polypharmacy refers to the effects of taking four or more medications concurrently to manage coexisting health problems — which is a common problem for older adults. More than 76 percent of Americans age 60 and older take two or more prescription drugs on a regular basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 37 percent take five or more.
Polypharmacy is believed to increase the risk of a fall in several ways. The greater risk of side effects and interactions between medications is one of these major concerns. Drugs that affect the central nervous system — antidepressants, hypnotics and opioids — have long topped the list of pharmaceuticals that may increase fall risk, along with diuretics, constipation medications and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are the most-common of pain-relief medications in the world.
The Karolinska study, which tracked the medical records of more than 64,000 Swedes who’d been hospitalized because of a fall, uncovered surprising new links between fall injuries and vitamin B-12, calcium, antithrombotics (drugs that reduce the formation of blood clots), and GERD and peptic ulcer drugs.
The list of commonly prescribed drugs that may enhance fall injury risk, according to Moller’s research, includes: antithrombotic agents, drugs for peptic ulcer and GERD, loop diuretics, NSAIDs (women only), vitamin B-12 and folic acid, constipation drugs, calcium, hypnotics and sedatives, analgesics and antipyretics, opioids, antidepressants and thyroid hormones (men only).
And any medication that causes drowsiness, dizziness, vision problems, gait disturbance (ataxia), hypotension or one that increases bleeding risk or exacerbates osteoporosis could potentially up the chances of experiencing a harmful fall.
It is important to know all you can about the medications you are taking. However, never decide on your own when you should stop taking a drug without first consulting with your doctor. Doctors must constantly weigh the benefits and drawbacks of every medication they prescribe, and, in many cases, there are no alternative drugs for them to consider.
Your physician will know how to bestm direct you regarding your concerns. Communication with health-care providers is the best approach to keeping one safe from possible side effects and subsequent falls.
If you see more than one doctor, make sure each one has a current list of all the medications (prescribed and OTC) you are taking. Certain drugs should not be taken together and can have a negative effect on your overall health, which includes increasing your risk for falls.
Staying hydrated, eating nourishing meals and maintaining a consistent fitness routine that includes strength training and balance exercises will also assist in the effort to ward off the likelihood of a fall. And if you do fall, your odds for a good recovery are increased if you are maintaining proper wellness.
Fall no more, my friends!
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