Psychotropic meds linked to risk of falls in seniors

Older adults who take several types of psychotropic medications, such as antidepressants or sedatives, appear more likely to experience falls, according to an analysis of previous studies reported in the Nov. 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

More than 30% of individuals older than 65 will fall at least once a year, and falls and their complications are the fifth-leading cause of death in the developed world, according to background information in the article. Each year, 85% of all injury-related hospital admissions and more than 40% of nursing home admissions are related to falls, and the annual costs related to falls and their complications are estimated to be in the billions of dollars worldwide. Internal and external risk factors contribute to falls, and medications previously have been implicated in the probability of falling and in the risk of sustaining a fracture.

John C. Woolcott, MA, of University of British Columbia and Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcomes Sciences, Vancouver, Canada, and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 22 previously published studies conducted between 1996 and 2007. The studies involved 79,081 participants older than 60 years and evaluated nine drug classes: antihypertensive agents; diuretics; beta-blockers; sedatives and hypnotics; neuroleptics and antipsychotics; antidepressants; benzodiazepines; narcotics; and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).

When the data were pooled and results adjusted for other factors, the use of sedatives and hypnotics, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines were significantly associated with the risk of falling in older adults. "Given the divergent results shown by some observational assessments within specific medication classes, the results of our meta-analysis reiterate the need for caution when prescribing these medications to seniors," the authors wrote.