Falling down over meds

When a senior falls, it's only natural to blame it on age. But in many cases, those falls have a distinctly unnatural cause -- one that has nothing to do with the advancing years.

It's drugs.

Common psychiatric medications can leave even a young and healthy person unsteady on his feet. In seniors, these drugs are a fall waiting to happen -- and a new study out of the Netherlands finds they can actually double your own risk of having three or more falls over the next year.

The study of more than 400 seniors finds the biggest risk in three types of drugs in particular: antidepressants, antipsychotics, and benzodiazepines. But while the new study focused on psychiatric medications, they're not the only drugs that can increase your fall risk.

In addition to psychiatric medications everything from common painkillers to over-the-counter cold meds and antihistamines can also lead to falls.

Several years ago, UNC-Chapel Hill put together a list of drugs that commonly lead to falls in seniors.

It's a list worth getting to know, because falls are the leading cause of injury in seniors, responsible for 2 million hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths every year just in the United States.

They're also responsible for the lion's share of the 300,000 fractured hips American seniors suffer every year, and a fractured hip is often more than just another broken bone.

It's a shattered life -- one where independence is lost, sometimes forever.

That could mean being confined to a wheelchair, or even a life spent in a nursing home, not to mention a growing reliance on the pain and psychiatric medications that can increase the risk of yet another fall.

The shame of it is that many of the drugs that cause these falls aren't even necessary in the first place. Some are given off-label, which means they haven't even been proven to combat the condition they're being used for.

And most of them have safe and natural alternatives that won't leave you woozy and unsteady.

A holistic physician can work with you to help determine which drugs you might not need and which ones have natural alternatives. If you're in the Southern California area, I can help. Make an appointment to see me at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine.

And in the meantime, there are two things you can do right now that can slash your risk of a fall:

1. Get regular physical activity, since exercise can help keep you steady on your feet at any age. In one recent study, exercise reduced falls by 30 percent.

2. If you're not taking vitamin D already, add some ASAP. The sunshine vitamin is critical to both bone support and muscle health -- and both of them are essential if you hope to keep yourself upright. Most people need between 2,000 and 5,000 IUs per day.

In addition, be sure to take a regular look around your home for possible fall hazards like small area rugs -- and have someone move things around for you if necessary to make sure nothing trips you up.