As you age, your risk of falling increases—as does your risk of suffering a serious injury as a result. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four seniors—a total of 36 million people—fall each year. Sadly, this leads to over 32,000 deaths annually.
"These falls can be related to multiple factors, but are often associated with medications that can affect balance and coordination," says Mary Cait Smith, PharmD, a clinical pharmacist at The University of Toledo Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio. "The risk of experiencing a fall related to a medication increases with age and the number of medications taken," Smith tells Best Life. Read on to learn four medications that spike your risk of falling, and how to stay safe if you take them.
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Blood pressure medications
Many people require daily medication to keep their high blood pressure under control. However, Smith warns that certain blood pressure medications can increase your risk of falling.
You may be able to mitigate this risk, she says, by working with your doctor to monitor your condition and your medications' effects. "If you are taking blood pressure-lowering medications, it can be helpful to keep a log of blood pressure readings so that your doctor can see if you are within your goal range," Smith advises. "You should work closely with your doctor and pharmacist to make sure you are taking these medications at the correct times and at the correct doses, which can help reduce these risks. If you are consistently having low readings or experiencing side effects, you should contact your doctor. It is important to not stop taking these medications without first discussing with your doctor."
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Depression and anxiety medications
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed drugs for treating depression and anxiety. However, they can come with some potentially serious side effects, including significantly increased fall risk. In fact, a 2016 study published in the journal Annals of Pharmacotherapy "observed a 48 percent greater likelihood of recurrent falls in antidepressant users compared with nonusers."
Tricyclic antidepressants and benzodiazepines are also commonly prescribed to treat these two conditions, and can have similarly problematic side effects. In particular, Smith says that amitriptyline (Elavil), alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and lorazepam (Ativan) have all been linked to heightened fall risk. Speak with your doctor about exploring possible alternatives if you are concerned about your fall risk while taking these medications.
Sleep aids are another type of psychoactive medication which have been linked to increased fall risk, especially in seniors. Smith cited zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta) as two examples of sleep drugs that are known to cause dangerous falls. In fact, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Aging Research, "compared with nonusers, sleep medication users had a 40 percent higher risk of having injurious falls."
To minimize the risk of serious side effects, many experts recommend undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy in lieu of insomnia drugs. And you can practicing good sleep hygiene by maintaining a regular bedtime routine and cultivating heathy habits during the day, experts say.
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According to Smith, narcotic opioid pain medications like oxycodone (Percocet), hydrocodone (Norco), and fentanyl are known to cause falls with some frequency. That's because these are considered 'psychoactive medications,' which can alter your nervous system function, mood, cognition, perception, and behavior. "These medications impact brain activity and can greatly increase the incidence of falls, especially when taken in combination with other medications that also impact the brain," says Smith, adding that they can also cause impaired coordination and problems with balance.
"If you are taking psychoactive medications, it can be helpful to discuss with your provider to see if there is a safer alternative that might work for you," Smith says.
Taking more than one drug at once can greatly increase your fall risk.
While taking any one of these drugs can increase your odds of a fall, Smith points out that combining two or more drugs that impact your brain or blood pressure can send your risk levels soaring. "When starting a new medication, it is important to discuss possible side effects with your doctor and pharmacist," she advises. Smith also suggests that you share an up-to-date medication list with your various doctors and your pharmacist, so they can help spot any potentially dangerous combinations of medication.
"It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor to see if there are any medications that you might be able to stop taking or if there are safer alternatives to the medications you are currently taking," Smith says, adding that it's best to fill all of your prescriptions at one pharmacy for easier record-keeping.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.