Depression, antidepressants and fall risk: therapeutic dilemmas—a clinical review

E. P. van Poelgeest*, A. C. Pronk, D. Rhebergen, N. van der Velde

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose: The aim of this clinical review was to summarize the existing knowledge on fall risk associated with antidepressant use in older adults, describe underlying mechanisms, and assist clinicians in decision-making with regard to (de-) prescribing antidepressants in older persons. Methodology: We comprehensively examined the literature based on a literature search in Pubmed and Google Scholar, and identified additional relevant articles from reference lists, with an emphasis on the most commonly prescribed drugs in depression in geriatric patients. We discuss use of antidepressants, potential fall-related side effects, and deprescribing of antidepressants in older persons. Results: Untreated depression and antidepressant use both contribute to fall risk. Antidepressants are equally effective, but differ in fall-related side effect profile. They contribute to (or cause) falling through orthostatic hypotension, sedation/impaired attention, hyponatremia, movement disorder and cardiac toxicity. Falling is an important driver of morbidity and mortality and, therefore, requires prevention. If clinical condition allows, withdrawal of antidepressants is recommended in fall-prone elderly persons. An important barrier is reluctance of prescribers to deprescribe antidepressants resulting from fear of withdrawal symptoms or disease relapse/recurrence, and the level of complexity of deprescribing antidepressants in older persons with multiple comorbidities and medications. Practical resources and algorithms are available that guide and assist clinicians in deprescribing antidepressants. Conclusions: (De-) prescribing antidepressants in fall-prone older adults is often challenging, but detailed insight in fall-related side effect profile of the different antidepressants and a recently developed expert-based decision aid STOPPFalls assists prescribers in clinical decision-making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)585-596
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Geriatric Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

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