Depression and Anxiety Meds: Are You at High Risk of Falling?

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Every year, about 30 percent of noninstitutionalized older adults report falling, and 10 percent of the falls cause serious injury. A variety of medications-including anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, hypnotics, and SSRI antidepressants-can increase the risk of falling.

A new study provides insight regarding who is at greatest risk. Analyzing a random sample of 447,169 individuals insured under AARP Medicare plans, researchers found that 44 percent, or 200,175 people, were taking at least one medication associated with increased fall risk, otherwise known as a falls-related drug.

Of those taking at least one of these drugs, 29 percent were identified as new users and 71 percent as continuing users. Tracking injurious falls over the course of a year, the researchers found that the risk of falling was slightly higher in individuals newly prescribed a falls-related drug, although patients on long-term therapy with such drugs were also at heightened risk. Individuals taking more than one falls-related drug were also more likely to fall. The findings were reported in 2017 in Drugs and Aging.

If you are on medication for a mood disorder or anxiety, or are taking a sleeping aid such as zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), or eszopiclone (Lunesta), ask your doctor whether the drugs you take pose a risk of falling. You may be able to switch to another, safer medication. Also inquire about fall prevention classes, which can help lower the risk of injurious falls.