Caring Currents

Drugs That Up the Odds of Falling Down

Last updated: Jul 15, 2008

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Researchers are the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have compiled a long list of prescription drugs -- including common antidepressants, seizure medications, and painkillers -- that can increase the risk of falling among older people who take four or more meds.

What do these drugs all have in common? They depress the central nervous system, which may make your parents both less alert and slower to react and thus more likely to be unsteady on their feet.

We've written a lot about the dangers of falls and fall prevention among the elderly in recent weeks. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries and a major factor in head injuries among the elderly. Studies suggest that seniors taking four or more medications are at two to three times greater risk for a life-altering stumble than those who don't.

Just a heads-up: I t's not only prescription remedies that can contribute to falls. Many over-the-counter drugs such as allergy pills, sleep aids, and some cough and cold remedies can have the same effect. So make sure your parents' doctors know about all the medications they take -- anything that can cause drowsiness can put your parents at greater risk for taking an injury-inducing tumble.

What steps to take to protect your parents? If they're prescribed a drug on the list -- or an over-the-counter medication that could contribute to a fall -- they shouldn't abruptly stop taking it. But they should talk with their doctor or pharmacist about the risk of falling, preventive measures they can take at home, and possible alternatives to the drugs.

University of California at San Francisco geriatrician Leslie Kernisan recommends that your parents bring all their medications to each doctor's visit for review -- at least an annual meds check is generally advisable. You can always fax a list of your parents prescription and OTC medication information (include drug name, dosage, and frequency) to their physicians if a medication has changed or an office visit isn't scheduled soon.

Image by Flickr user neur0nz used under the Creative Commons attribution license.