Here’s another article in the “Don’t Fall For It” series: – important information about preventing falls. As an expert in older adult fitness, balance, and fall prevention, my passion is to help older adults thrive. However, even the healthiest, most vibrant person could suffer a devastating fall if they lose their balance due to their medications.
Here’s a not-so-fun fact:
Both the type, and the number of medications prescribed to an older adult contribute to heightened fall risk. Here’s why:
Types of medications that can increase your risk for falls
You probably know that various types of medications alone can elevate fall risk in older adults. Side effects such as dizziness, reduced alertness, weakness, fatigue, and postural hypotension (a sudden lowering of blood pressure when you stand up from sitting or lying down, which can cause dizziness or even fainting) can cause a fall.
Psychoactive drugs like benzodiazepines (Xanax and Valium) and sleep medications like Ambien and Lunesta that affect the brain can increase fall risk, and so can medications that lower blood pressure, including Flomax. Muscle relaxers like Flexeril and over the counter “PM” versions of pain meds and Benadryl and can also heighten your risk of falling.
Antidepressants in particular are associated with an increased risk for falling, and new users of these drugs are at a greater risk for falling than people that have been using them for a while. Those taking a higher dose of antidepressants experience a higher fall rate.
Interactions of different medications that can increase risk for falls
Older adults that take more than four prescription drugs are four times more likely to sustain a fall when compared to peers who are taking fewer prescriptions. (Tinetti, 2003; Neutel, Perry & Maxwell, 2002). Four! Research is still being conducted about the specifics of how the interactive or additive effects of taking multiple medications might affect balance and mobility.
Obviously, doctors prescribe different medications for legitimate reasons. However, since the types and number of drugs you take can increase your risk of falling, I strongly encourage you to ask your doctor to review all your medications (both prescription and over the counter) for their ability to cause dizziness or drowsiness. Whenever possible, eliminate or lower the dose of those that are potentially risky.
We are so lucky to live in an age where we have access to so many helpful medications, but it’s also important to know that some meds can also elevate your fall risk.