Humpty Dumpty Might Have Been Stressed

Life stress in older men linked to higher risk of falling

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Individuals' mental health can affect their physical health in ways they might not even realize. Even a person's risk of an accident may be related to mental health.

A recent study found that older men who had experienced stressful life events in the previous year had a greater risk of falling than men who hadn't had a recent stressful life event.

The men were not at any greater a risk for fractures after other risk factors had been taken into account. However, the increased risk for falls themselves existed even when other risk factors for falling had been considered.

Stressful life events ranged from losing an important person or pet to financial troubles or moving.

"Talk to a doctor about severe stress."

This study, led Howard A. Fink, MD, MPH, of the VA Medical Center's Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center in Minneapolis, looked at whether major life events or sudden stress might increase older men's likelihood of falling.

The researchers followed 5,152 men, aged 65 and older, for a year. The men had filled out surveys regarding stressful life events that had occurred up to one year before the study began.

Just over half the men (2,932 of the men, or 57 percent) reported having had at least one type of stressful life event.

These events could have included a serious illness or accident of their wife or partner, the death of another close relative or close friend or separation from a child, close friend or other relative who provided help.

Other life events deemed stressful were the loss of a pet, having given up an important hobby or activity, experiencing serious financial trouble or having changed residence.

The researchers compared this information to the rate of falls among all the men.

They found that men who had experienced a stressful life event had a 33 percent greater risk of falling than men who had not experienced a stressful life event.

Men who had a stressful life event were at even greater risk — 68 percent greater — for multiple falls.

This increased risk existed even after researchers had adjusted their analysis to account for other factors that might increase a man's risk of falling.

Those factors included the men's age, level of education, past history of falling, history of depression and antidepressant use, walking speed and ability to stand up from a chair without help within 30 seconds.

The researchers also took into account whether the men had Parkinson's disease, diabetes, a history of stroke or impairments to daily activities. The researchers also looked at the men's risk of experiencing a fracture based on their recent history of stress.

Initially, the researchers found that a stressful life event also increased the risk of a fracture, but this increased risk disappeared when the researchers took into account other fracture risk factors.

After considering the men's total hip bone mineral density, past fractures after age 50, Parkinson's disease, stroke history and activity impairments, men with a stressful life event were no more likely to have a fracture than men without such an event.

The researchers concluded that, among these men, "...those with stressful life events in the past year had a significantly increased risk of falls and multiple falls during the subsequent year."

This study was published September 3 in the journal Age and Ageing. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease, the National Institute on Aging, the National Center for Research Resources and the National Institutes of Health Roadmap for Medical Research.

Review Date: 
September 6, 2013
Last Updated:
September 9, 2013