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Broken Heart = Broken Bones in Elderly

By Rebecca Lim, Asian Scientist

June 18, 2012

Photo Credit: Asian Scientist

AsianScientist (Jun. 18, 2012) – Australian researchers have found that people suffering from depression are more likely to fall, pointing to a complex relationship between mental illness, a sense of balance, and falling in older people.

Falls are a major public health issue across the world. Amongst the elderly, it is a cause of significant morbidity and accidental death.

The study, published in the journal Age and Ageing, involved 300 participants from southern Taiwan, aged 65 to 91 who were not on antidepressant medication. They were assessed by researchers at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) using the Geriatric Depression Scale and underwent balance and mobility testing.

On follow-up telephone calls every two months, it was found that depression was more common in people who fell compared to those who did not fall – 40 percent of recurrent fallers, 28 percent of people who fell once, and only 16 percent of people who did not fall had depression.

“We’ve known that depression and falls are connected in older people for some time, but we were never able to determine whether depression itself or anti-depressants increase the rate of falling,” said lead researcher Professor Stephen Lord.

“But anti-depressants are not commonly taken by the people we studied and so for the first time we were able to measure lifestyle factors, rates of depression, and how often people fell without the effect of any depression-related medications,” he said.

This study proves that in addition to enhancing vision, strength and balance, health programs around the world designed to prevent falling in older people also need to consider mental health, the authors say.

“Now we know that depression and falls are interrelated, fall prevention strategies targeting older people need to also assess and treat depression to have the maximum impact,” Lord said.

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