Opioids and Falls Risk in Older Adults: A Narrative Review

Roosa-Emilia Virnes, Miia Tiihonen, Niina Karttunen, Eveline P. van Poelgeest, Natalie van der Velde, Sirpa Hartikainen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Pain treatment is important in older adults but may result in adverse events such as falls. Opioids are effective for nociceptive pain but the evidence for neuropathic pain is weak. Nevertheless, both pain and opioids may increase the risk of falls. This narrative literature review aims to summarize the existing knowledge on the opioid-related fall risk in older adults, including the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, and assist clinicians in prescribing and deprescribing opioids in older persons. We systematically searched relevant literature on opioid-related fall risk in older adults in PubMed and Scopus in December 2020. We reviewed the literature and evaluated fall-related adverse effects of opioids, explaining how to optimally approach deprescribing of opioids in older adults. Opioid use increases fall risk through drowsiness, (orthostatic) hypotension and also through hyponatremia caused by weak opioids. When prescribing, opioids should be started with low dosages if possible, keeping in mind their metabolic genetic variation. Falls are clinically significant adverse effects of all opioids, and the risk may be dose dependent and highest with strong opioids. The risk is most prominent in older adults prone to falls. To reduce the risk of falls, both pain and the need for opioids should be assessed on a regular basis, and deprescribing or changing to a lower dosage or safer alternative should be considered if the clinical condition allows. Deprescribing should be done by reducing the dosage gradually and by assessing and monitoring the pain and withdrawal symptoms at the same time. Weighing the risks and benefits is necessary before prescribing opioids, especially to older persons at high risk of falls. Clinical decision tools assist prescribers in clinical decisions regarding (de-) prescribing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-207
Number of pages9
JournalDrugs & aging
Issue number3
Early online date15 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

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