Polypharmacy and Falls in the Elderly: A Literature Review


1 1Lower Eyre Health Services, Cummins and Districts Memorial Hospital, Australia

2 2School of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Flinders University of South Australia, Bedford Park, Australia



Context Medications are taken to ease, control or cure ailments. They are effective and safe if used correctly. In the elderly, disorders that occur as a result of ageing, frequently require treatment, resulting in increased use of medications. Polypharmacy is common among the elderly and although it can be therapeutic in nature, is linked to adverse events such as falls. Evidence Acquisition A review of the literature was conducted. English articles in Cinahl, Medline and Healthsource (2000-2012) were searched for links between polypharmacy and falls in older adults aged 65 years old and over. Articles not meeting the age criterion were excluded. Results Sixteen articles were included in the literature review. Four literature reviews, three observational prospective cohort, three cross-sectional, three case-control, one longitudinal study and two retrospective cohort studies were examined. Many studies were able to demonstrate a link between the number of medications taken and risk of falls however the potential for bias resulting from confounding by indication was high due to study design in many cases. Conclusions Polypharmacy as an independent variable has been linked to falls in older people, however there appears to be a stronger link between falls and the type of medications taken (e.g. medications known to increase risk of falls), rather than polypharmacy on its own. Polypharmacy can sometimes be therapeutic and it may be more beneficial to consider terms such as ‘inappropriate prescribing’ or potentially inappropriate medications’ when considering the effects of medication on falls in older adults. Polypharmacy in older people is often viewed in a negative light due to the increased risk of adverse events, including falls. This article examined current knowledge on the characteristics that define polypharmacy, its effect on falls in elderly people and provided recommendations for future research. Further research utilizing prospective and intervention studies are needed to clarify the causal relationship between polypharmacy, comorbidities and fall risk.