Most adults 65 and older take at least one prescription drug, as well as over-the-counter medications. It’s no surprise, given that 85% of older adults have chronic conditions.
According to a recent study by PDS, an estimated 94 percent of older adults received a prescription for a drug in 2017 that increased their risk of falling, a startling increase from 57 percent in 1999. The study also found that the rate of death caused by falls in older adults more than doubled during the same time period.
In fact, between 1999 and 2017, more than 7.8 billion fall-risk-increasing drug orders were filled by older adults in the United States, the majority for antihypertensives, which treat high blood pressure. The use of antidepressants also rose sharply, from 12 million prescriptions in 1999 to more than 52 million in 2017, according to the study.
Medication Side Effects
Experts acknowledge that while these medications are necessary, they can be problematic because the side effects are often drowsiness and dizziness, which contributes to falls. The Washington Post reports, “Some drugs also can impair cognition and judgment, affect mood, and produce lightheadedness, loss of balance, blurry vision, slower reaction time, and wooziness. To try to address this, the CDC has launched a campaign to improve collaboration between health providers and pharmacists to assess patients’ medications and screen them for their risk of falls.”
Every year, millions of Americans 65 and older — 1 out of 4 — suffer falls, which are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in this age group, according to the CDC. Even a nonfatal fall can be serious, especially if it results in a fracture or head injury. Three million older Americans are treated in emergency rooms annually after falling, and 800,000 are hospitalized.
Experts aren’t advising that doctors stop prescribing or recommending drugs to older patients, but they are suggesting that patients be more vigilant in questioning the side effects and making sure their doctors know all the drugs they are currently taking. Having regular fall risk assessments are also recommended.
VSTBalance uses artificial intelligence and machine vision to identify mobility deficits in older adults and compare against normative data to determine their risk of falling. The system automatically generates reports after each assessment, helping therapists and physicians create more effective care plans and route patients to personalized home exercises, wellness, and/or therapy. These assessments may also quantify if their medications are impacting their mobility.