Stressful events, such as financial problems or the death of a loved one, appear to raise the risk of serious and even life-threatening falls among older men, a new study shows.
In research is published online in the journal Age and Ageing, medical investigators from the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis who tracked some 5,000 older men found that more than 41 percent reported at least one serious fall within a year of experiencing a serious stressful life event.
In nearly 15 percent of those cases, the seniors fell multiple times during the year after a stressful event.
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"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," said Howard A. Fink, M.D., who led the research. "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 possible explanation for the association is that stressful events trigger stress hormones to be released, which affect brain function and cognitive abilities, and that can may lead to falls and other adverse health events. Inflammation — a potential indicator of physical stress — can also lead to a loss of muscle mass and impaired physical function, the researchers noted. They added that sudden emotions, triggered by a stressful event, could impact balance or visual attention, leading to a fall.
To reach their conclusions, researchers surveyed study participants about recent stressful life events — such as the death of a spouse or close friend or relative, a serious illness or accident, separation from a child, loss of a pet, financial troubles, or a change in residence. The participants were then contacted every four months for one year after the interviews regarding falls.
"Further studies are needed to confirm our findings and to investigate the mechanism underlying this association," Dr. Fink said. "Additional studies may explore whether clinical screening of older men with recent stressful life events for fall reduction interventions will reduce falls."
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