Startling number of older adults take prescription drugs that increase risk of falling

By: Rob Senior

A surprising recent study found that 94 percent of adults 65 years or older take at least one prescription drug that increases the risk for falls.

The study, published in Pharmacoepidemiology & Drug Safety, originated from the University of Buffalo and analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) and the medical expenditure panel survey (MEPS) from the years 1999–2017. The results of a similar study in 1999 yielded far more modest results, showing 57 percent of adults ages 65 and older were prescribed at least one such medication.

Amy Shaver, PharmD, lead investigator and postdoctoral associate in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, says the results should serve as a wake-up call to prescribers and as a means of resuming emphasis on ensuring that prescribed medications are appropriate for their recipients.

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

The sharp rise in the use of antidepressants – from 12 million prescriptions in this age group in 1999 to more than 52 million in 2017 – is seen as one likely explanation for the eye-popping increase.

“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,” says Shaver. “However, it is important to note that these medications are still associated with increased risks of falls and fractures among older adults.”

The research was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute, and investigators are involved in multidisciplinary de-prescribing initiatives conducted through Team Alice and the UB Center for Successful Aging.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. This has not been peer reviewed.

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