Boomers at risk

It's not just the elderly who fall.

Most of us think it’s a good idea to watch out for falls after a 65th birthday. But recent research suggests it would be wise to start earlier.

From 2007 to 2015, the Veterans Administration recorded more than 13,500 falls considered serious enough to require medical attention. To find possible causes, Julie Womack ’94MSN, ’08PhD, associate professor of nursing, led a team that studied data on 80,000 vets treated in the VA system. Of those 80,590 vets, over 23,000 were living with HIV. Both those with HIV and those without were at risk for falls. The researchers found that, for the former, the mean age for a fall was 57; for the latter, it was 58.

The team also identified several risk factors. The key factors associated with falls: illicit substance use, hazardous alcohol use, polypharmacy—being prescribed too many drugs—and having a prescription for opioids or anticonvulsants. For vets with HIV, use of benzodiazepines and muscle relaxants were also risk factors. The study was published online in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

Because many of the risk factors are manageable, Womack hopes health-care providers will play a significant prevention role, through substance abuse counseling and de-prescribing. “When doctors and nurses see anyone under the age of 65, they don’t think about asking about vulnerability to falls,” she says. “But they should.”

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