You may only be in your 50s, but you could still be at risk for serious falls—especially if you take multiple prescription drugs, according to new research.
In fact, the more medications middle-aged adults take, the higher the risk, according to a new study from Yale University that looked at 13,000 fall cases. And while taking a tumble may sound like a minor problem, falling actually increases the risk of major injuries—including debilitating hip and other fractures—hospitalizations, and even death, said the study authors.
"Providers typically think about falls in people over age 65. But these people were primarily in their 50s and falls were an important concern," said lead study author Julie Womack, Ph.D., an associate professor at Yale School of Nursing.
The meds you need to watch out for most: Those used to treat anxiety and insomnia (benzodiazepines), muscle relaxants, and prescription opioids, which often have side effects like dizziness, drowsiness, and impaired coordination—all of which could be a recipe for a bad spill.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Falls
Most prevention programs focus on older adults, but this new study suggests the target age should be expanded to include middle-aged adults, too. "Fall risk factors are highly prevalent in the Baby Boomer generation more generally,” said Dr. Womack. “The next step is to look at interventions for the middle aged.” That means you, gen-Xers born in the '60s.
Thankfully, there are also things you can do in your daily live to help lower your chances of having a serious fall, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Follow these tips to reduce your risk:
- Talk meds with your doctor: As evidenced by the Yale study, taking certain drugs can increase your fall risk. At your next appointment, go through your medication list with your doctor and identify which ones could make you dizzy, sleepy, or otherwise more likely to fall. Your M.D. can give you advice for how to take these medications as safely as possible and perhaps even offer alternative medications or solutions to help you come off potentially problematic drugs.
- Don’t skip leg day. Strengthening your legs can also help reduce your chance of falling. You don’t even need to hit the gym to get started—just grab a kitchen chair for support and try some of these leg exercises described on the National Institute on Aging’s website.
- Focus on balance: One of the best ways to prevent falls is through specific exercises that help improve your balance. Tai-chi is one activity that specifically helps your balance. You can also try these other exercises listed on the National Institute on Aging’s website, like practicing balancing on one leg at a time (do this next to a chair so you can grab on for support).
- Get your eyes checked. When was the last time you saw your eye doctor? It’s important to get your vision checked every year or two to make sure you have an up-to-date prescription for glasses or contacts. Seeing clearly can help reduce your chance of falling.
- Fall-proof your home. If you’re especially at risk of falling due to your medications or other factors, it may be wise to take steps to improve the safety of your home. That may mean installing grab bars outside your bathtub or shower, adding railings to your staircases, or removing pesky throw rugs and other potential tripping hazards.