Overmedication of Seniors and ElderlyPosted on December 26, 2014 by ElderCare Resources in Blog, Medication, Senior Safety
Challenges of elderly overmedication
By Glenn Ellis
It is undeniable that drugs do save lives, but few prescription medications are completely free of risks or side effects.
Naturally, the more drugs that are taken at the same time, the greater the risk of adverse interactions and potentially devastating side effects. This problem of over medication is increasing to almost epidemic proportions among the elderly. Over-medicated seniors have been mistakenly diagnosed with depression, dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease.
For many people care of elderly parents or relatives is more and more a reality in life. However, most are unaware of issues with over-medication issues for seniors and the elderly.
Often over medication in the elderly can happen for a number of reasons:
Mixing prescription drugs with over-the-counter drugs, under the assumption that nothing one can buy without a prescription will be harmful, no matter how it is taken:
- Not admitting discomfort or pain
- Assuming that whatever a doctor says is the best option for the situation
- Not knowing what a medication is supposed to treat or how long to take it
- Having multiple doctors who all prescribe medication without consulting each other
- Failing to inform one’s doctor of all over-the-counter medications and supplements one is taking
No one denies that prescription drugs do save lives, and improves the quality of life, but they are not completely free of risks or side effects. Naturally, the more drugs that are taken at the same time by a person, the greater the risk of adverse interactions and potentially devastating side effects.
People 65 years and older are the largest consumers of prescription and nonprescription medications in America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that although the 65-and-over age group makes up only 15 percent of the U.S. population, they account for nearly one-third of drug prescriptions. And drug use by the elderly is expensive. According to Medicare, each senior currently averages 28.5 new prescriptions and refills per year at a cost of $42.30 per drug.
As we get older, our use of medicines will often increase as we treat ailments that often occur as a result of aging. Medicines are taken to ease, control or cure ailments. They are effective and safe if used correctly. However, elderly people can be at increased risk from medicines for various reasons.
Elderly people with multiple diseases can often end up taking multiple medicines at the same time. With multiple medicines, there is an increased chance of side effects, interactions between different medicines and problems taking them correctly.
The physical effects of aging, such as arthritis and failing eyesight and memory, can also cause issues in taking medicines the way your doctor intended.
As we age, our livers become less efficient at breaking down medicines, our kidneys less efficient at excreting them. This means that normal adult doses of certain medicines may be more likely to cause side effects.
As a result of these natural changes associated with aging, prescription medications can affect the elderly in some very specific ways:
- Brain and Nervous system
- The brain and nervous system become more sensitive to certain medicines as we get older. For example, elderly people are particularly susceptible to the side effects of opioid painkillers such as morphine and sleeping tablets such as diazepam. Your doctor may prescribe lower doses of these types of medicines and for short periods only
As we age we can also become more forgetful and may have trouble remembering what medicines are for, or whether we have taken them that day. There are various strategies to help, including medicine reminder charts and pill boxes that can be filled with all the daily or weekly pills needed. A pharmacist or health visitor can help you arrange this.
Failing eyesight can cause problems with reading small print labels and information leaflets supplied with medicines. If this is a problem, ask your pharmacist for large print labels and leaflets.
Bones and Joints
Arthritis is a common problem affecting elderly people, and it can cause particular problems with getting medicines out of childproof containers and administering medicines such as eye drops and inhalers.
Since medicines are of no use if you can’t get into them, your pharmacist can supply your medicines in non-click lock containers on request. He or she can also provide devices to make using medicines such as eye drops and inhalers easier.
But you will need to remember to keep medicines that are in non-click lock containers well out of the reach of children.
Only a doctor can tell you whether you or your older relative is suffering from medication side effects or from an actual disease.
Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.
This column is for informational purposes only. If you have a medical condition or concern, please seek professional care from your doctor or other health professional.