Broken heart, broken bones: Falls among elderly tied to depression

A new NeuRA study has found that people suffering from depression are more likely to fall, pointing to a complex relationship between mental illness, a sense of balance, and falling in older people.

Falls are a major public health issue across the world as falling is a frequent cause of accidental death in older people.
Researcher Prof Stephen Lord with a research participant

Prof Stephen Lord at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and colleagues studied a population of people 65 years of age and older in Taiwan.

“We’ve known that depression and falls are connected in older people for some time, but we were never able to determine whether depression itself or anti-depressants increase the rate of falling”, says Lord.

“But anti-depressants are not commonly taken by the people we studied and so for the first time we were able to measure lifestyle factors, rates of depression, and how often people fell without the effect of any depression-related medications”, Lord says.

This study means that in addition to enhancing vision, strength and balance, health programs around the world designed to prevent falling in older people also need to consider mental health.

“Now we know that depression and falls are interrelated, fall prevention strategies targeting older people need to also assess and treat depression to have the maximum impact”, Lord concluded.

This paper is published in the journal Age and Ageing.

Please contact Ben Bravery at the NeuRA Media Office on +61 406 599 569 to arrange an interview with the lead author.

How was this study done?
  • Nearly 300 people living in southern Taiwan and not taking anti-depressant medication aged 65–91 were measured using the Geriatric Depression Scale and underwent balance and mobility testing.
  • People were telephoned every month for 2 years to determine if and when they had fallen.
  • Depression was more common in people that fell compared to people that did not fall: 40% of recurrent fallers, 28% of people that fell once and only 16% of people that did not fall were depressed.