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No One Is Watching Out for Older People’s Medications

A nursing home insider describes lack of oversight for older people's medications that can lead to confusion, dizziness and falls.

As we get older, things change. We can see the gray hair cropping up, and try as we might, we can’t hide the wrinkles. (At least, not entirely.)

Interior changes aren’t so visible, but aging also alters our ability to metabolize medicines. Kidney and liver function may become compromised, so that doses should be lowered. Doctors need to take extra care with older people’s medications.

Drugs Upon Drugs:

Perhaps that is why older adults are more susceptible to some drug side effects. Too often, the response to that is a new prescription, so that a person may end up with drugs to treat side effects of medicines prescribed for a side effect. Some of these medicines may affect a person’s cognitive capacity.

Who Is Watching Out for Older People’s Medications?

Q. I work in dementia care. My co-workers and I are all alarmed about the medications given to elders.

In care homes, we all know that when someone gets a new medication, a fall may not be far behind. We are used to elders arriving on 10 or even 20 different medications, none of which have been reviewed before. We’ve even seen someone arriving with three different depression meds, started at three different time periods with none of them being discontinued.

Neglect of Older People’s Medications:

In the world of elder care, alas, we see disgraceful neglect in the world of medications. It would be a really good idea for a pharmacist to be required by law to review an elder’s meds.

A. We have long suspected that too many older people are overmedicated. Nursing home residents and patients with Alzheimer’s disease are especially vulnerable. Thank you for sharing an insider’s perspective.

The more drugs senior citizens take, the more likely they will experience fatigue, forgetfulness, confusion, dizziness and falls. Family and friends should be vigilant and request a review of all medications on a regular basis. To make this easier, we offer our Guide to Drugs and Older People, which lists a number of drugs that are inappropriate for people over 65, along with our Drug Safety Questionnaire, to be filled out by the prescriber or pharmacist.

Because the consequences of overmedication can be so serious, including confusion or falls, it is imperative that we find better ways to offer oversight on older people’s medications.


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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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