Elderly taking multiple medications twice as likely to injure themselves - research

Elderly people taking multiple medications for incontinence, pain and sleeping are twice as likely to injure themselves with some dying within a year of their injury. 

The world first study from the University of Otago in Christchurch draws on the experience of seventy thousand elderly New Zealanders measuring the impact that taking multiple medications has on fractures. 

Researchers found those taking sedative or cognitive medications were twice as likely to fall and break their hip.

Ninety percent of fractures were the result of a fall, and between 20 and 30 percent of elderly were dead within a year of suffering a fracture, Researcher Dr Hamish Jamieson says.

The impact of fractures is immense - resulting in the individual's loss of mobility, overall poor quality of life and early entry into an age car facility, he says.

The reason multiple medications cause falls is because of the side effects of the drugs and how each medication could react with others creating additional side effects. 

The side effects of the medications include sedation, a dry mouth, blurred vision, dizziness and confusion, Dr Jamieson says.

 "All medications have beneficial impacts. However, increasingly we are studying the long term side effects of medications in the elderly. The impacts can be subtle but this can cause a major impact in the frail elderly and can cause falls, loss of independence and even premature death."

There are a number of factors that predispose elderly people to medication side effects, including not being able to metabolise medications as well as young people, being on multiple medications, being frail and more susceptible to side effects. 

Rather than stopping medications themselves, elderly patients should regularly get their GP to review their medication.

The research was made possible through The Ministry of Health's dataset on the elderly, InterRAI which carries out more than 100,000 assessments each year.