Widely-used medication may raise seniors' fall risk

Many seniors experience sleep problems, but a common drug prescribed to help treat them may be putting them at a greater risk for falls. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that seniors who were administered Ambien were about four times more likely to suffer a fall than those were were not treated with the medication.

A widespread issue
The findings were based on an analysis of more than 16,000 seniors who were in the hospital. The team found that about 3 percent of the patients given Ambien experienced a fall, while only around 0.7 of those who didn't had a fall. In fact, being given Ambien put seniors at a greater risk of falling than medical conditions including mental impairment, delirium and insomnia. The findings may change the way the Mayo Clinic addresses sleep issues in their patients.

"As a result of our study, we are now phasing out [Ambien] and moving toward sleep enhancement techniques that are not based on drugs and which we believe are safer and probably as effective," said Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, the clinic's chief patient safety officer.

Approximately one-third of adults 65 and older experience a fall each year, and the incidents are the leading cause of injury-related death among the senior population, so it's important to find methods to reduce the number of falls. Along with looking at the medication seniors are taking, there are a number of methods to be proactive when it comes to fall prevention.

A proactive approach to falls
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior care providers can help older adults avoid falls by making sure their home is free of any obstacles. Moving furniture or removing items such as throw rugs can eliminate tripping hazards.

Healthy lifestyle choices can also help seniors reduce their chances of suffering a fall, according to the Mayo Clinic. For instance, regular exercise allows older adults to maintain strength, balance, coordination and flexibility, all of which are imperative to staying upright.

It's also important not to overlook the benefits of assistive devices. Simple additions around the home, such as grab bars and track lighting, can offer seniors a sense of security when they're moving throughout their house. Occupational therapy can also help seniors discover new ways to avoid falling.