Health Care Services

The Connection between Heart Disease and Falling

When a loved one falls, it is commonly considered to be just part of aging. But statistics show that more seniors experience falls related to heart conditions. It may be from an undetected heart disorder or related to medications being used to treat a heart condition.

The latest statistics from the American Heart Association indicate that 42.2 million Americans over age 60 have one or more types of cardiovascular disease. This includes coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, congenital heart disease and stroke.

A study by the MedicAlert Foundation shows that elderly men and women with heart disease fell 29 percent more frequently than those without a chronic condition. Symptoms of heart disease can include muscle weakness and fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, swelling of the legs, ankles and feet, and even fainting. Each of these or a combination of them can increase the risk of falling.

With today’s healthcare, people with chronic health conditions may not need to remain in the hospital for extended stays. They can receive medications or pacemakers and/or implantable cardioverter defibrillators to control the heart’s rhythm and return home to recover. Now, heart patients can continue living at home managing their illness. However when they start to feel unwell – whether because of medications or heart problems – the risk of falling increases.

Frequently the effects of the illness or the medications themselves can cause symptoms that increase the risk of falling.

  • Beta-blockers, for example, can cause fatigue, headache, upset stomach, dizziness and shortness of breath.
  • ACE inhibitors can cause dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness upon standing, swelling of the feet and ankles, and elevated potassium levels, which can lead to confusion, numbness of the extremities, and weakness or heaviness in the legs.
  • Common side effects from statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) can impair mobility are cause headaches, muscle aches, tenderness or weakness, drowsiness, dizziness, and nausea or vomiting.

Tools for Independence

Annual doctor visits and healthy lifestyle changes remain key defenses in the fight against heart disease, but for many who need medical treatment, decades of innovation in medical technology can make a difference. The power to summon help immediately with a medical alert if a fall should occur is critical for seniors with heart conditions, particularly for those living alone.

Technology also comes to the rescue for heart patients with the use of implanted cardiac devices such as monitors, pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators. Some of these are monitored remotely through a phone or other electronic response system, which gives patients psychological support knowing they are connected to help and can continue living independently.

A home healthcare professional who can assist an aging adult with the activities of daily life is another way of ensuring loved ones have assistance when needed.