The Washington Post Sunday

Infections can lead to falls by elderly, studies suggest

- 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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