The Connection Between Stress and Falls in Older Men

by Hilary Young on October 23, 2013

The Connection Between Stress and Falls in Older Men

Older men have a significantly higher risk of falling and hurting themselves following a stressful life event, such as the death of a loved one, serious financial trouble, moving away from their primary residence, or loss of a pet.

A research study conducted by Dr. Howard Fink and a team of his colleagues at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, examined about 5,000 men over the age of 65 from locations all across the U.S. The men participated in two interviews about their lives throughout the course of a year. In the first interview, the men were asked if they had recently experienced any of the following:

  • Death, serious illness or accident of wife/partner

  • Death of other close relative or close friend

  • Separation from child, close friend or other relative who provided the men with help

  • Loss of a pet

  • Serious financial difficulties

  • Moving or changing residence

  • Giving up important hobbies or interests.

The second interview was conducted a year later and the researchers found that 27.7 percent of the men had fallen and 14.7 percent had fallen multiple times. Falls were reported by nearly 30 percent of men with one stressful event, 35.5 percent of those with two stressful events, and just under 40 percent of those with three or more stressful events.

After adjusting for age, the researchers determined that any stressful life event for men over the age of 65 can be associated with a 41 percent increase in the risk of experiencing a fall.

While they do not yet have the science to back it up, the researchers have hypothesized that stress might cause falls for several reasons:

  • Stress causes a hormonal response in the body, which can trigger falls and other negative health effects

  • Inflammation, a physical side effect of stress, leads to muscle loss and reduced physical abilities

  • The intense emotional response to negative life events could impact balance or visual attention, leading to a fall

“Further studies are needed to confirm our findings and to investigate the mechanism underlying this association,” said Dr. Fink. “Additional studies may explore whether clinical screening of older men with recent stressful life events for fall reduction interventions will reduce falls.”