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The Big Number: 94 percent of older Americans take medications that could increase their likelihood of falling

The vast majority of older adults, 94 percent of those 65 and older, are taking medications that are known to increase the likelihood of falling, research has found. Though prescribed to treat such conditions as high blood pressure, depression, sleep problems or pain, the drugs often come with potential side effects that can lead to falls, including lightheadedness, reduced alertness, slowed reaction times and drowsiness. The research notes that, in an 18-year span, older adults filled more than 7.8 billion prescriptions for such medications, increasing how many take these drugs from 57 percent in 1999 to 94 percent in 2017. In that same time period, the rate of deaths caused by falls among older adults more than doubled. Each year, about 1 in 4 older adults report falling, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about 20 percent of those falls result in a serious injury, such as a hip fracture or head trauma. The agency says that falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in older adults. Among drugs that increase the likelihood of falls, blood-pressure drugs known as antihypertensives are prescribed the most often, according to the research published in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology & Drug Safety. But prescriptions for antidepressants also have “increased dramatically,” the researchers wrote, going from 12 million to 52 million filled prescriptions and from 7 to 16 percent of older people taking them by 2017. Other drugs that raise the risk for falling include anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, opioids, sedatives, antihistamines and some tranquilizers. Besides being aware of the pros and cons of medications being taken by older adults, the ways to reduce their risk for falling include exercising to improve balance and muscle strength and making living space changes, such as improving lighting, removing throw rugs, adding grab bars in the bathroom and wearing an electronic pendant that can be buzzed for help if needed.

— Linda Searing

Overzealous in preventing falls, hospitals are producing an ‘epidemic of immobility’ in elderly patients

Many older adults fall at home in well-lit rooms