New study focuses on alarming rate of falls among seniors

Pharmacists and physicians want to see if reducing older patients' use of certain medications can reduce falls.

Benzodiazepines, a class of prescription drugs to treat anxiety and insomnia, are often taken with pain-relieving opioids.

Now, researchers at UW Medicine and the UW School of Pharmacy want to see if deprescribing these medications will prevent the alarming rate of falls in older adults.

During deprescribing,  a pharmacist and physician review a patient’s’s medications to see if any may be causing harm or may no longer be helping the patient.

From 2007 to 2016, the death rate from  falls in older adults  increased 30 percent in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC said one in five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or head injury. These serious falls send about 3 million older adults to the emergency room every year at a cost of about $50 billion dollars.

Benzodiazepines are strongly linked to falls, but  less is known about  connections between opioids and falls, said UW Medicine researcher Dr. Elizabeth Phelan, founder and director of the Fall Prevention Clinic at Harborview Medical Center and director of the Northwest Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Center. She is conducting the study with Shelly Gray, director of the UW Plein Center for Geriatric Pharmacy.

Their study, “STOP-FALLS: Reducing central nervous system-active medications to prevent falls and injuries in older adults,” will identify medication-safety improvements to reduce fall-related injuries and other adverse health outcomes.

A $3 million grant from the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control is funding the study. It is one of three CDC-funded studies looking at  medication management of opioids and benzodiazepines to reduce falls among adults aged 65 years and older. The CDC estimates that, if rates of falls among seniors continue to rise, by 2030 seven fall deaths can be expected to occur every hour in the United States.

The research will be conducted at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute with  Karen Sherman, an epidemiologist and behavioral biologist, serving as the site lead.  An estimated 30,000 patients will be involved in this observational study. Results from the first phase should be available in late 2019 or early 2020.

The UW award is one of three related extramural research cooperative agreements funded under RFA-CE18-004.

-- Bobbi Nodell, UW Medicine,, 206.543.7129

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Tags:geriatrics and gerontologyfall prevention

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