These Rx Are Dangerous For Seniors

Luisa Torres · Jul 14, 2019

| NPR · As we age, the risk of falling increases and becomes increasingly perilous.

A fall can be a real health setback for a frail, elderly person.

And, more older adults are dying from falls today than 20 years ago. A recent study showed that more than 25,000 U.S. adults age 75 or above died from a fall in 2016, up from more than 8,600 deaths in 2000, and the rate of fatal falls for this age group roughly doubled.

But the risk of falling can be minimized, says Dr. Elizabeth Eckstrom, professor and chief of geriatrics at Oregon Health & Science University. “A lot of older adults and a lot of physicians think that falling is inevitable as you age, but in reality it’s not.”

NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro and Luisa Torres spoke to Eckstrom about the most common causes of falling among seniors and the best ways to prevent them.

Are seniors falling more than they used to? Or are there more seniors? Does something else explain this increase?

I think it might be a little bit of both. There are so many more seniors, and there’s probably better reporting than there used to be. There’s more awareness about falls as older adults and doctors are starting to think about it a little bit more.

I think our older adults are starting to [be more active], and that also is going to put you at risk for falling. I always tell people to please not be sedentary to prevent falls. That’s the worst thing you can do. You’ve got to be out and active, but being out and doing things does allow you to put yourself in a position where you could fall.

Also, I think one of the biggest problems for falls is that so many older adults are on risky medications. Those sleeping pills, pain pills, a lot of the drugs that older adults have been prescribed for years and years have markedly increased risk for falling. And if we could get everybody off of those pills, it would be so helpful.

How do pain pills increase the risk of falls?

Pain pills have similar side effects [compared to] sleeping pills. They can make you dizzy. They can make you confused. They can make you lethargic. They can cause you to not be as sharp so that you’re not paying attention to curbs or uneven sidewalks.

Are there any other drugs that seniors should be aware of?

Yeah, absolutely. There are a lot of drugs that fall into a class called anticholinergics. It’s the class that has cold medications in it, like Sudafed PE, [and] drugs to help control bladder problems … Read more. 

6 Age-Related Changes That Increase Senior Fall Risk And What To Do About Them – As we age, our bodies change. These gradual changes add up to increased fall risk for older adults.

After tripping or stumbling, a younger adult can rely on strong muscles and sharp reflexes to quickly regain balance or heal quickly from injury. But an older adult has a weaker body response and is far more likely to fall and have lasting damage – even if they’re already using a walker or cane.

In fact, the CDC says that people age 65+ have a greater than 25% chance of falling. And if someone falls once, their chance of falling again doubles, meaning there’s over 50% chance of a second fall.

This is serious because falls are a leading cause of lost independence and ability. Seniors often aren’t able to recover fully from the trauma, their overall health declines, and their care needs increase significantly.

We explain the top 6 age-related changes that increase senior fall risk, typical injuries, and ways to reduce fall risk.

6 age-related changes that increase senior fall risk

1. Decreasing strength – Muscle loss starts very early, around age 30. In older adults, less muscle means less strength and weaker bones.

2. Weaker sense of balance  – Many body systems work together to keep us standing upright. Age-related changes and medication side effects can make it more difficult for seniors to stay balanced.

3. Declining eyesight – Vision helps us keep our balance and avoid obstacles. As vision worsens, so does the ability to stay upright and clearly see what’s in our path. Read more.