A new analysis of studies including nearly 80 000 people aged 60 and older confirms that certain types of widely prescribed drugs, such as antidepressants and sedatives, can increase their risk of falling.
Falls often have serious consequences for older people, such as injuries leading to disability and admission to a nursing home, or even death.
While prescription drugs are recognized as contributing to fall risk among older people --who are likely to be on lots of medications -- discovering just which drugs are the problem is still a "challenge," Dr Carlo A. Marra of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and colleagues note in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
To update a review of studies on this subject published in 1996, Marra and his team identified 22 studies published between 1996 and 2007 including 79 081 people 60 and older, some of whom lived independently, and some of whom were institutionalised. They analysed the risk of falling associated with nine classes of drugs.
What the researches discovered
Three classes turned out to significantly boost fall risk: sedatives and hypnotics, typically prescribed as sleeping aids; antidepressants; and benzodiazepines, which include tranquilisers like Xanax and Valium.
The researchers also saw an increased risk in patients taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- like aspirin-- and drugs for treating psychosis, but they note that people may be taking these drugs to treat conditions that would in and of themselves increase their risk of falling.
Prescription drug use among the elderly is on the rise, Marra noted and pointed out that one recent Canadian study found one in seven people over 80 had filled a prescription for an antidepressant.
Older people who are taking any of the drugs associated with falls should talk about the medication with their physician and their pharmacist, Marra advised.
"Perhaps between their practitioner and themselves they can come up with safer alternatives," Marra said. – (Reuters Health, November 2009)