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Nearly 95 percent of older adults take prescriptions that increase their risk of falling, study finds

Serious falls can increase seniors’ risk of death

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A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Buffalo explored how prescription drugs may pose a health risk to older consumers

Their work revealed that nearly 95 percent of older adults are taking prescription drugs that increase their risk of falling. This is concerning because falls for older consumers can lead to more serious health complications and increase the risk of death. 

“Our study indicates two trends increasing concurrently at a population level that should be examined at the individual level,” said researcher Amy Shaver. “Our hope is that it will start more conversations on health care teams about the pros and cons of medications prescribed for vulnerable populations.” 

Prescriptions linked to higher risk of falling among seniors

The researchers analyzed responses to two national surveys -- the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and the National Vital Statistics System -- that included datasets from 1999 through 2017. They were able to hone in on consumers over the age of 65 and see what kinds of prescription drugs they were taking, how often falls occurred, and the subsequent consequences associated with falling. 

The study revealed that an alarming number of seniors are prescribed drugs that increase their risk of falling. When the study began in 1999, less than 60 percent of seniors were taking drugs that affected their likelihood of falling; by 2017, that figure surged to nearly 95 percent of seniors. 

High blood pressure medication was identified as the most common drug that increased the risk of seniors falling, but several other types of drugs were also linked to these outcomes. In particular, the team noted that antidepressant use was up significantly between 1999 and 2017 and led to a higher risk of falls among older consumers.

“The rise in the use of antidepressant medications seen in this study is likely related to the use of these agents as safer alternatives to older medications for conditions such as depression and anxiety,” said Shaver. “However, it is important to note that these medications are still associated with increased risks of falls and fractures among older adults.” 

These findings are important because they highlight how a rise in prescribed medications can increase the risk of serious injuries and even death among seniors. Because many of these commonly used medications pose a threat to consumers’ health, the researchers hope that health care providers take time to reconsider their treatment plans with older patients. 

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