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Older people with depression more likely to fall

NeuRA
Photo: Dr Kim Delbaere
Allied health professionals and nurses should treat depressive symptoms in older people with a combination of physical exercise and psychosocial therapies, according to new research.

The message comes after Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) researchers found older people experiencing depression are at a greater risk of falling.

In a study of 488 older people aged 70 years and over living in the community in Sydney, researchers found depressive symptoms, antidepressant use, reduced balance and poor cognitive functioning are all linked to an increase in falls in older people.

Researchers found the risk of falls increased 55 per cent for participants with two of the risk factors in the study while the risk surged to 144 per cent for participants with three to four of the risk factors.

Depression and antidepressants also increased the risk of falls independently of poor cognitive and physical functioning.

NeuRA research fellow and study co-author Dr Kim Delbaere, an emerging leading international researcher in the area of falls in older people, said with antidepressant medication linked to an increase risk of falls, health professionals should consider treating depressive symptoms using non-pharmacological approaches.

Dr Delbaere said therapies should instead focus on a combination of physical exercise, such as resistance and balance training, and psychosocial therapies, such as mindfulness.

“These could include stress reduction and relaxation techniques, and other cognitive behavioural and mindfulness techniques,” she said.

As part of the study, participants underwent a comprehensive psychological, cognitive and physiological assessment and were monitored for falls throughout a 12 month follow-up period.

Falls prevention is a major health challenge with figures showing about one third of older people living in the community fall at least once a year.

Dr Delbaere, who has a Master in Rehabilitation Sciences and Physiotherapy and is a conjoint senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales’ School of Public Health and Community Medicine, and her research group are working to reduce the number of falls and boost the quality of life for older people.

The researchers aim to find a feasible solution that supports independent ageing, ideally in a home environment.

Two years ago, NeuRA released an iPad app to help physiotherapists, occupational therapists and nurses better assess older people’s fear of falling.

The iconFES app was the first app of its kind to use images to describe a range of activities and situations, and it’s also been proven to work with people who have dementia.

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords