Did you know that a number of medications commonly given to older adults can make it more likely that you will fall? While some of these medications are necessary no matter what the side effects, it’s important to know about your risk of falling, and how to minimize that risk, before you decide to take the medication.
Why would medicine cause me to fall?
A medication can increase the risk for falls because of the medication’s desired effect or because of its side effects. For instance, your medicine might:
- Cause drowsiness or make you feel tired
- Change the way your heart beats
- Cause low blood sugar
- Lower your bone density
- Change the way your nerve endings perceive pressure and pain
Lowering your bone density has the compounded risk of making any fall worse, since you’ll be more likely to break a bone. In addition, the way the medication moves through your body has a separate impact. Medications can:
- Cause stomach discomfort
- Make you run for the toilet
- Change how often and how urgently you need to urinate
When you take more than one medication regularly, it’s important to note the combination. You may be taking two medications that, alone, wouldn’t cause you problems but, together, may make falling more likely.
Medication categories that typically may pose a fall risk include:
- Anticonvulsants (medications protecting against seizures)
- Muscle Relaxants
- Antihistamines (allergy medications)
- Blood pressure medications
If you’re taking a medication in one or more of these categories, talk to your doctor about whether it poses a fall risk for you.
But I really need the medication!
If you’re having a serious medical condition, sometimes the best way to treat it involves taking a medication. Together with your doctor, you will assess how the medication can contribute to an increased fall risk. Then weigh the pros and cons – is the increased risk of falling worth it to treat the condition? Generally, doctors and patients make this decision based on:
- The severity of the medical condition
- The availability of other treatment options
- The extent of the fall risk presented by the medication
- The patient’s overall heath and history regarding falls
Avoid falls no matter what medications you’re taking
Your number one priority is to keep yourself safe, especially when you need to take medications that increase the risk of falling. Once you decide that you’ll consider taking a medication, what should you do?
- Talk to your doctor. If some of your medications pose a risk, ask if there are alternatives. If there are not, ask for an evaluation of your fall risk.
- Consult with a physical therapist. A PT can assess your fall risk. If your risk is higher than you want it to be, your PT can design an exercise routine to help you stay strong and improve your balance.
- Follow your exercise routine. Once you know what to do, practice regularly to avoid falling.
Medications can raise your risk of falling, but knowing about that risk means you can do something to limit it. Talk to your doctor or your PT today to stay safe and healthy!