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Can the Medications You Take Increase Your Risk of Falling?

By Lex Gonzales July 03, 2022 Health and Fitness

There are many things that can increase a senior’s risk of falling and one of the most common but often overlooked is the role of medications.

Seniors and their caregivers need to be aware of the medications that can put them at risk for falls.

In this article, I will discuss the role of medications in increasing the risk of falling among seniors and provide some tips on how to stay safe while taking medications.

What Factors Can Increase a Senior’s Risk of Falling?

There are many risk factors for falling among seniors, but they can be all classified under two distinct categories:

Extrinsic Factors

Extrinsic or external risk factors are the reasons for falling that are outside of one’s self. Extrinsic risk factors for falling may include:

  • Fall or trip hazards in your surroundings.
  • Poor lighting conditions.
  • Ill-fitting footwear or assistive devices.
  • Medications.

In an article I recently wrote, I explained how extrinsic risk factors are easy to modify but if left uncorrected accounts for 30-50% of falls among seniors!

Intrinsic Factors

Intrinsic or internal risk factors are the reasons for falling that can be attributed to your own body.

Intrinsic risk factors for falling may include:

  • Poor vision.
  • Deteriorating vestibular system (inner ear).
  • Reduced physical activity.
  • Presence of multiple medical conditions.

Intrinsic factors are relatively harder to modify or correct compared to extrinsic reasons for falling.

What Role Do Medications Play in Increasing the Risk of Falling Among Seniors?

Certain types of medication are more likely to cause problems with balance and coordination, which can lead to falls.

Medications for high blood pressure, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and depression are all examples of drugs that can increase the risk of falling.

In addition, some pain medications and sleeping aids can also cause seniors to feel dizzy or drowsy, making falls more likely.

Seniors who take 4 or more medications (also called polypharmacy) are especially at risk, as the interactions between different drugs can compound the effects.

As a result, it is important for seniors to be aware of the potential risks associated with their medication and to avoid activities that could put them at risk for a fall.

What Steps Can You Take to Decrease Your Risk of Falling?

As we age, our bodies become less able to regulate our blood pressure and heart rate, which can lead to dizziness and an increased risk of falling.

Medications can also have side effects that contribute to falls, such as drowsiness, impaired balance, and blurred vision.

To decrease your risk of falling, I recommend these next steps:

  • Review all your medications with your doctor to ensure they are not contributing to dizziness or impaired balance.
  • Ask your doctor if he/she can adjust the dosage, change the schedule, or replace your medications that have adverse side effects on your balance and equilibrium.
  • Check your blood pressure regularly and maintain healthy blood pressure.
  • Exercise regularly to maintain your muscle strength and improve your balance.
  • Download a free guide I included in my recent article that listed several medications with known side effects affecting balance and equilibrium.

By taking these steps, you can decrease your risk of falling by as much as 30-50%!

What about you? Were there medications you previously took that affected your balance? How did you notice this effect on you? What did you do to minimize their impact? How did your healthcare provider assist you?

Let's Have a Conversation!

The Author

Dr. Lex Gonzales, PT, DPT received his degree of Doctor of Physical Therapy from the University of South Florida in the USA. He has been a physiotherapist for over 24 years with a special interest in the geriatric or older adult population. Visit him at drlexgonzales.com.

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