Prescription drugs increase the risk of falls | Matthew Levy
I have highlighted in previous columns the life-altering and, in some cases, life-threatening effects of falls in people over 60. Balance and stretching exercises, along with proper care during daily activities, play a key role in keeping seniors safe. Another critical, often overlooked factor in keeping seniors on their feet is the proper management and tracking of prescription medications.
With the advent of new drugs to treat conditions such as dementia, high blood pressure and diabetes, the use of prescription drugs among the elderly has exploded over the past three decades. Research shows that more than half of adults over the age of 65 take at least four prescription medications, and of this group, 12% take more than 10.
When used safely, these drugs play a vital role in improving and prolonging quality of life. However, patients and their families should regularly review the medications they are taking with their doctor, especially when new medications are added or dosages change, to ensure that they do not increase the risk of falls. .
A recent study found that 94% of people over the age of 65 have been prescribed a medication that increases the risk of falling. Medications associated with an increased risk of falling generally fall into three categories: those that affect the brain, those that affect blood pressure, and those that lower blood sugar. In some people, the drugs can cause drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, blurred vision or sudden drops in blood pressure – each of these factors increasing the risk of falling.
It’s important to note, however, that just because a drug might fall into one of these categories doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it. Medicines do not have the same effects on everyone. Every person is different, and side effects can vary depending on the dosage and combination of medications an individual is taking.
That’s why it’s essential to regularly review the prescriptions and over-the-counter medications you take with your doctor. Additionally, vitamins and supplements have become very popular and can interact with prescription medications.
As part of this assessment, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention encourages healthcare providers to use the following guidelines to assess any risky medication:
• Stop medications when possible. What condition is this medicine intended to treat? Are there non-drug options? The chances of a drug or combination of drugs causing a fall increases with the number of drugs you take.
• Switch to safer alternative medicines.
• Reduce the drug dose to the lowest effective dose.
To further reduce the side effects of some medications, it is important to take them only as prescribed without skipping doses. The use of a pill dispenser allows for safer medication management. You can also discuss with your doctor the benefit of taking a particular medication at night rather than in the morning to help reduce the risk of falls.
Again, just because a medication is identified as having an increased risk of falling doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it. In many cases, the benefits outweigh the risks. That’s why you should always work with your doctor to make the right decisions based on your specific reaction to certain medications and your unique health care needs.
Dr. Matthew Levy writes about orthopedics for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is an orthopedic surgeon at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and practices in Solon, Independence and downtown Cleveland.