Central Nervous System–Active Medications and Risk for Falls in Older Women


Address correspondence to Kristine E. Ensrud, MD, MPH, Department of Medicine (111–0), VA Medical Center, One Veterans Drive, Minneapolis, MN 55417. E-mail: ensru001@tc.umn.edu


OBJECTIVES: To determine whether current use of central nervous system (CNS)-active medications, including benzodiazepines, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and narcotics, increases the risk for subsequent falls.

DESIGN: Prospective cohort study.

SETTING: Four clinical centers in Baltimore, Maryland; Portland, Oregon; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the Monongahela Valley, Pennsylvania.

PARTICIPANTS: Eight thousand one hundred twenty-seven women aged 65 and older participating in the fourth examination of the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures between 1992 and 1994.

MEASUREMENTS: Current use of CNS-active medications was assessed with an interviewer-administered questionnaire with verification of use from medication containers. A computerized dictionary was used to categorize type of medication from product brand and generic names. Incident falls were reported every 4 months for 1 year after the fourth examination.

RESULTS: During an average follow-up of 12 months, 2,241 women (28%) reported falling at least once, including 917 women (11%) who experienced two or more (frequent) falls. Compared with nonusers, women using benzodiazepines (multivariate odds ratio (MOR) = 1.51, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.14–2.01), those taking antidepressants (MOR = 1.54, 95% CI = 1.14–2.07), and those using anticonvulsants (MOR = 2.56, 95% CI = 1.49–4.41) were at increased risk of experiencing frequent falls during the subsequent year. We found no evidence of an independent association between narcotic use and falls (MOR = 0.99 for frequent falling, 95% CI = 0.68–1.43). Among benzodiazepine users, both women using short-acting benzodiazepines (MOR = 1.42, 95% CI = 0.98–2.04) and those using long-acting benzodiazepines (MOR = 1.56, 95% CI = 1.00–2.43) appeared to be at greater risk of frequent falls than nonusers, although the CIs overlapped 1.0. We found no evidence to suggest that women using selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (MOR = 3.45, 95% CI = 1.89–6.30) had a lower risk of frequent falls than those using tricyclic antidepressants (MOR 1.28, 95% CI = 0.90–1.84).

CONCLUSIONS: Community-dwelling older women taking CNS-active medications, including those taking benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants, are at increased risk of frequent falls. Minimizing use of these CNS-active medications may decrease risk of future falls. Our results suggest that fall risk in women taking benzodiazepines is at best marginally decreased by use of short-acting preparations. Similarly, our findings indicate that preferential use of selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors is unlikely to reduce fall risk in older women taking antidepressants.