Stressful Events May Raise Risk of Falls in Older Men, Study Finds

More evidence needed to see whether screening would be worthwhile, researcher says

FRIDAY, Sept. 6, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Older men have a significantly increased risk of falling in the year after they go through a stressful life event such as the death of a loved one or serious money problems, new research shows.

The study included nearly 5,000 men older than 65 at six locations in the United States. They were asked if they had experienced any of the following stressful incidents: death, serious illness or accident of wife/partner; death of other close relative or close friend; separation from child, close friend or other relative who provided the men with help; loss of a pet; serious financial difficulties; moving or changing residence; or giving up important hobbies or interests.

In the year after being interviewed, 27.7 percent of the men fell and 14.7 percent fell multiple times. Falls were reported by nearly 30 percent of men with one stressful event, 35.5 percent of those with two stressful events, and just under 40 percent of those with three or more stressful events.

After adjusting for age, the researchers concluded that any stressful life event was associated with a 41 percent increased risk of falling and a nearly twofold increased risk of multiple falls in the following year. There was no statistically significant increase in fracture risk, according to the study published online Sept. 3 in the journal Age and Ageing.

"To my knowledge, this is the first prospective study to examine the independent association between stressful life events and the risk of falls in community-dwelling older men. We believe it provides the strongest evidence to date supporting stressful life events as a risk factor for falls. However, the mechanism connecting stressful life events to falls is uncertain," study author Dr. Howard Fink, of the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, said in a journal news release.

He and his colleagues said there are a number of possible reasons why stressful life events can increase the risk of falls. For example, sudden emotions triggered by such events could impair balance or visual attention, resulting in a fall. Or inflammation -- a potential indicator of physical stress -- could lead to a loss of muscle mass and reduced physical abilities.

"Further studies are needed to confirm our findings and to investigate the mechanism underlying this association. Additional studies may explore whether clinical screening of older men with recent stressful life events for fall reduction interventions will reduce falls," Fink said.

Although the study showed an association between stressful life events and risk of falls among older men, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases offers fall prevention tips.

SOURCE: Age and Ageing, news release, Sept. 3, 2013
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