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Some Drugs Increase Risk Of Falling

Jul 11, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP A new study has found that some prescription drugs increase the risk of falling in patients aged 65 and older who are taking four or more medications on a regular basis.  The researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created a list of those prescription drugs that increase the risk of falling in such patients.

"Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for adults 65 and older, and research suggests that those taking four or more medications are at an even greater risk than those who don't—perhaps two to three times greater," said Susan Blalock, Ph.D., an associate professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.  Blalock is also the principal investigator of an ongoing study of a falls-prevention program she and fellow researchers developed for pharmacists to implement.  The prescription drug list and some of the study's finding were published in the June issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Pharmacotherapy.  "What we've done as part of our study is to identify specific prescription drugs that are most likely to contribute to the falls," Blalock said.

The medications involved include a wide variety of common prescription antidepressants, seizure medications, pain killers, to name a few.  All the drugs involved depress the central nervous system, which can make patients less alert and slower to react.  Stefanie Ferreri, Pharm.D. lead author of the paper and a clinical assistant professor in the pharmacy school, warns patients to be wary of more than just prescription medications, because many over-the-counter medications can contribute to falls.  "Some allergy medications, sleep aids, and some cold and cough remedies can have the same effects as prescription drugs," Ferreri said.  "Always let your doctor know what over-the-counter medications you are taking and be sure to read the labels. Anything that can cause drowsiness can put you at increased risk of falling."

The researchers provided advice for patients, physicians, and pharmacists regarding this new finding.

The group’s advice to those patients who check the drug list and see a drug they are taking on that list is to continue taking their medications; however, the next time they are scheduled to meet with their physician, speak to the doctor about the risk of falling with the medications currently prescribed and discuss and possible alternative medications.

The group advises physicians to look for medications that have been proven safe and effective in older adults and also look for medicines that have less of a sedating effect. Physicians should also watch out for anticholinergics, which is a class of drugs that affect nerve cells used to treat a wide range of conditions.

Pharmacists are advised to be aware of patients age 65 and older who are taking four or more drugs and ensure such patients understand that there is the additional risk of falling created by their taking those medications.

The complete list of the prescription medications that increase the risk of falls for patients 65 and older can be found here.

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