Increase in fall-related deaths highlights importance of pharmacists

Pharmacists’ services can prevent medication-related falls

With recent reports of increasing fall-related deaths among patients 65 and older, pharmacists’ services are proving to be critical in efforts to curb this growing health threat.

“Many adults take multiple medications, with more than half of them using at least one medication with side effects that may increase the risk of falling,” said Grant Baldwin, PhD, MPH, director of the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention at CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Reviewing medications with a pharmacist or other provider is one of the most important steps older adults can take to reduce their fall risk.”

In partnership with APhA, CDC created STEADI: The Pharmacist’s Role in Older Adult Fall Prevention, a free CPE-accredited training program.

According to a report published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the rate of fall-related deaths has increased 31% from 2007 to 2016, making falls the leading cause of injury-related deaths among patients 65 and older. In turn, medical expenses for fatal and nonfatal falls was about $50 billion in 2015 alone.

“The magnitude of the problem [is evident in] the numbers of people falling. When you look at the fact that we have 10,000 baby boomers every day turning 65, 10 years from now it’s going to be a huge problem,” said Jeffrey Delafuente, BSPharm, MS, professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy.

Due to the size of the aging population, fall-related deaths, injuries, and expenditures are likely to increase. However, “it’s important to recognize that fall prevention—and really anything related to older adults—requires a team effort and pharmacists are an integral part of that health care team,” said Sunny Linnebur, PharmD, FCCP, FASCP, BCPS, BCGP, professor at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Prescription drugs (like blood pressure medications, antidepressants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and opioids) play a major role in this growing health threat—even OTC medications like diphenhydramine or Benadryl, according to Linnebur.

The first step in fall prevention is identifying patients with fall risks: examining their medications; asking them how many times they have fallen; observing their gait and balance; and asking simple questions relating to exercise, vision, home safety, and health.

Pharmacists can also provide patients with education about fall risks and refer them to other health care providers when appropriate. “Clearly, you may need to refer a patient to their [physician] for care, but we can also refer patients to physical therapists and eye doctors to check vision,” Linnebur stated.

APhA and CDC’s training program is part of a larger initiative by CDC: Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries (STEADI). Launched in 2012, it offers fall prevention tools and materials for all health care providers.