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Stress 'likely to trigger falls' in older men

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Men over 65 who lose a partner, get seriously ill or hit hard financial times are more likely to suffer a fall, research suggests.

Those who suffer a stressful life event are 41% more likely to fall in the following year and 68% more likely to experience multiple falls.

Experts analysed data for almost 5,000 men in six locations across the US.

The men were asked if they had suffered a stressful event from a list, including experiencing serious illness, a loved one having an accident, death of a loved one or separation from child, close friend, or other relative on whom they depended for help.

Other stresses included losing a pet, serious financial trouble or having to move house. Data was then collected on falls in the subsequent year.

Writing online in the journal Age and Ageing, Dr Howard Fink, of the VA medical centre in Minneapolis, and colleagues found falls occurred in 30% of cases where men reported one type of stressful event, 36% of cases with two types of stressful events and 40% of cases where three or more types of stressful life events were reported.

Dr Fink said: “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.”

One theory is that stress causes stress hormones to be released, leading to falls. Other data suggests that inflammation - a potential indicator of physical stress - could lead to a loss of muscle mass and poorer physical function.

Or it could be that sudden emotions, triggered by a stressful event, impact on the ability to maintain balance or to see properly.

Dr Fink said: “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.”

Michelle Mitchell, director general at Age UK, said: “We know that certain physical factors, such as poor eyesight and foot pain, make us more susceptible to falling, but this study shows that stressful life events may also have an effect among men.

“Keeping fit and healthy and exercising regularly helps prevent falls, but stressful life events such as the loss of a spouse or partner leaves many older people without the care and support they rely on and struggling to carry out basic daily tasks.

“Something as simple as not eating properly or forgetting an eye test can increase the risk of falling.

“With 90,000 hospital admissions caused by falls and fractures a year, it is vital we consider wider factors such as any changes in older people’s personal situation, as well as all the traditional physical triggers, in order to help reduce this very serious problem.”


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