Older man with pills, scary side effect, too many prescriptions, overmedicate

Children are not just small adults. Drugs that are safe and effective for grown-ups, such as antidepressants or cough syrup, may not work well for kids. Pediatricians have worked hard to tailor children’s health care to their special requirements.

Older People May Take Too Many Meds:

It’s time we considered the other end of the life span as well. Too often, drugs prescribed for older people don’t take aging organs and altered body chemistry into account. The results can be dire, especially if the person is on several drugs that may interact.

One reader described his father-in-law’s health problems:

“At 89, he was hospitalized for a prostate operation and bladder infection. On discharge, he was sent to rehab for a week to regain his strength. But he severely strained his Achilles tendons when the staff exercised him too hard. They were unaware that Cipro, the antibiotic he was taking for the bladder infection, can weaken the Achilles tendon, especially in the elderly.

“Back home, he continued to get infections. The high dose of antibiotic he was prescribed took away his appetite and he lost weight steadily. One day, he awoke feeling very dizzy and was once again taken to the ER. The doctors ran tests on everything from his heart to his brain. All were negative. He was put on a powerful intravenous antibiotic, because he still had signs of a urinary tract infection.

“Next day he awoke disoriented and barely able to move. Fearing a stroke, the medical staff ordered more tests, which showed nothing.

“I asked the doctor if he knew that the patient had been on antibiotics almost continuously from December to June. Did he know the man had lost 10 percent of his body weight and felt miserable? With impaired kidney function dating back decades, he was in nearly complete renal failure when admitted to the hospital. Was it possible his problems were due to an accumulation of antibiotic or an interaction between his medications?

“The doctor acknowledged that elderly patients are often prescribed one medication on top of another, then given more medicine to deal with the side effects of the first drugs. There is often too little consideration for the fact that as we age we don’t process or excrete drugs as well as we did when we were younger.

“My father-in-law was receiving a dose of the antibiotic Levaquin on the highest end of the normal range for a young person. For someone like him, who had a history of kidney impairment and was 89 years old, it was probably more than his body could handle.”

The story has a happy ending. Once the medications were discontinued, he recovered and went home much improved. But his case is not unique. Older people frequently take multiple medications for a variety of conditions. Unless someone is vigilant there is a real risk of interactions or overdose.

Staying Out of the Hospital:

One study has demonstrated that older people taking inappropriate medications are more likely to be admitted to the hospital (Drug Safety, Jan., 2016). Avoiding potentially serious side effects and interactions can be difficult, but it can really benefit an older person’s overall well-being.

We have prepared a Guide to Drugs and Older People that discusses these issues in greater detail and provides a drug safety checklist for patients.

Revised 4/21/16

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  1. dg
    Canton, Ga.

    There are so many issues we constantly hear about that are more “attractive” to hear about than what is happening to seniors. Do you ever hear that Obamacare took $500 BILLION out of Medicare to pay for it?

    This year, Medicare has denied payment for 5 of the 7 prescriptions I have taken for years. This will cost me over $600/month and I can’t afford it. What am I to do? More and more of the “better” doctors are not taking Medicare patients. What are we to do?

    It’s at this stage of our lives that we need good and proactive doctors who will help us stay healthy. Does the bureaucracy not understand the importance of preventive medicine? NO!

    We are the ones who will be pushed off the boat. We’re considered to be “expendable.” I have even heard my son-in-law refer to people over 70 as having lived their lives and they need to move over for young people.

    No one cares about us. It’s a shame.

  2. William
    Camano Island

    When I turned Sixty-Five all of a sudden My HMO put Me on several drugs. The Drs said it was for my health. Not so Much! They gave Me Atorvastatin. My blood sugars went up 100 points. They put me on Metformin and I gained weight. They put me on Diuretics and my blood sugars went up and I have joint pain.

    They did this because Medicare will pay for it. I have not refilled any of My prescriptions for Three months. I got a call from the Business Office asking why! I asked why I was on so many drugs. The lady let it slip that it was the Medicare Cocktail that all Seniors were being given. I’m looking for a New Healthcare Provider!

  3. Marjorie

    This article expresses the thoughts I have been having for a year. I am a nurse in my 80s, I have a drug book. After going to the ER for elevated blood pressure I was found to have an arrhythmia. After that over a year I was given 4 different drugs. I experienced multiple side effects from each one of them. As a result I was unable to maintain my usual level of activity and have lost my ability to maintain myself in my home. Thru the process I was concerned about being viewed as an uncooperative patient or verbalizing physcosomatic problems.

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