In­fec­tions can lead to falls by el­derly, stud­ies sug­gest

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY LENA H. SUN lena.sun@wash­post.com Ex­cerpted from wash­ing­ton­post.com/news/ to-your-health

Ev­ery year, more than 2 mil­lion se­nior cit­i­zens wind up in the emer­gency room be­cause they fell. An­done out of five falls re­sults in a se­ri­ous in­jury, such as bro­ken bones or a head in­jury.

Most falls are blamed on such risk fac­tors as med­i­ca­tions that can af­fect bal­ance; vi­sion prob­lems; and throw rugs, which can be trip­ping haz­ards.

But re­searchers now sug­gest that clin­i­cians, fam­ily mem­bers and care­givers con­sider another of­fender: in­fec­tions. Blood­stream, uri­nary and res­pi­ra­tory is­sues are the most com­mon cul­prits for in­fec­tion-re­lated falls, ac­cord­ing to a study pre­sented Fri­day in San Diego at ID Week, an an­nual meet­ing on in­fec­tious dis­eases.

The find­ings, by re­searchers at Mas­sachusetts Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal in Bos­ton, also sug­gest that although these falls may be more com­mon among in­di­vid­u­als 65 and older, they shouldn’t be over­looked in younger peo­ple. In fact, 20 per­cent of pa­tients in the study were younger than 65.

Many peo­ple, in­clud­ing fam­ily mem­bers, care­givers and even some clin­i­cians, don’t rec­og­nize the con­nec­tion. Peo­ple can fall be­cause an in­fec­tion may cause low blood pres­sure and make them feel light­headed or dizzy, or be­cause it ex­ac­er­bates con­fu­sion in older pa­tients with de­men­tia, ac­cord­ing to the re­searchers.

Far­rin A. Ma­nian, a clin­i­cian ed­u­ca­tor at Mas­sachusetts Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal and the study’s prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor, said in an e-mail that he hoped the study can in­crease both the public’s and health-care work­ers’ aware­ness of falls as “be­ing a po­ten­tial man­i­fes­ta­tion of an in­fec­tion.”

The re­searchers an­a­lyzed 161 peo­ple who went to the emer­gency room at Mas­sachusetts Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal be­cause of a fall and were sub­se­quently di­ag­nosed with a co­ex­ist­ing in­fec­tion. Clin­i­cians had not sus­pected in­fec­tion in 41 per­cent of the pa­tients be­cause the ma­jor­ity had few, if any, ob­vi­ous signs, such as fever.

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