Common Meds May Trip Up Older Men

Anticholinergic medications linked to falls in older men

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Falls can be a huge concern for older adults, and this may be especially true for older men who take these common medications.

A new study from Ireland found that older men who took anticholinergic drugs were more likely to experience falls that led to serious injury.

Older women, however, did not appear to be affected.

"Falls are one of the leading causes of loss of independence as people get older and the principal reason given for admission into nursing home care in Europe," said senior study author Rose A. Kenny, MD, a professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College Dublin, in a press release. "If early risk factors are identified and modified, falls can be prevented. This paper highlights important new risk factors for falls."

Anticholinergic drugs decrease the activity of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine in the brain. The body uses acetylcholine to pass messages between nerve cells.

This can lead to side effects like blurred vision, increased heart rate, sedation and confusion.

Anticholinergic drugs are used to treat bladder problems, depression, sleep disorders and respiratory problems. They include antihistamines, antidepressants and drugs for gastrointestinal problems.

Some examples include amantadine (Symmetrel), cetirizine (Zyrtec), cimetidine (Tagamet) and codeine.

Past research has also found that anticholinergic drugs may increase the risk of cognitive problems.

"Because long-term use of anticholinergics increases the risk of both mental and physical decline, including ataxia (loss of coordination) and dementia, my message would be to give the elderly an organic-based, nutrient-rich diet and mineral supplements, starting with magnesium, which affects over 700 enzyme reactions in the body, including brain health, heart health, bone and muscle health ..." said Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, Medical Advisory Board Member of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association, in an interview with dailyRx News.

Dr. Dean was not involved with the current study.

Dr. Kenny and team used data from an ongoing study called the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) to look at 2,696 patients age 65 or older.

The men who were on anticholinergic drugs were twice as likely to fall and be injured as men who were not on these drugs, Dr. Kenny and team found.

While these drugs were linked to falls only in men, women were almost twice as likely to fall as men were overall.

According to Dr. Kenny and team, it is not yet clear why this link was not found in women.

"Experiencing a fall can have a devastating impact on older people's lives and is a major contributor to care home admission and hospitalization, so it is vitally important for us to find ways to reduce the risk of falls or their severity," said lead study author Kathryn Richardson, PhD, in a press release.

This study was published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Irish Life, the Irish Department of Health, the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Science Foundation Ireland funded this research.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
July 30, 2015
Last Updated:
August 9, 2015