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Can You Avoid Falls by Cutting Excess Medicines?

When older people are taking excess medicines, they are more vulnerable to dizziness and falls. Reducing the number of drugs can make a big difference.
An elderly woman with a tableful of medications looking overwhelmed and confused

Do you know how many of the medications you take you really need? Far too often, prescriptions pile up. Unless patients are paying close attention, they can end up with excess medicines without realizing it.

Identifying Excess Medicines:

Q. My elderly mom had started falling so often that my siblings and I were seriously considering nursing home care. My brother gathered all her medications and took them to her doctor.

A review of the meds showed that mom was on six different blood pressure medications. Every time the medications were changed, the old one was not discontinued. Neither her doctor nor the pharmacist had caught this.

It has now been over a year since mom’s medications were corrected, and she is 92 years old. She has not fallen even once since the adjustment to her meds. As a result, she is still living at home. Why didn’t anyone catch this earlier?

Avoiding Falls Due to Excess Medicines:

A. Falls are a leading cause of fractures, disability and death, especially in older people. Drugs that cause dizziness are especially troublesome. Six blood pressure meds are excessive and would likely cause such complications.

Americans Take a Lot of Medicines:

A recent survey by Consumer Reports (Sept. 2017) noted that over half of Americans take an average of four prescription drugs daily. That can lead to side effects and drug interactions.

Older people are at particular risk for problems like dizziness or memory difficulties. Pharmacies may not have a system for identifying overprescribing. That means it is up to the patient and the family to be vigilant to avoid excess medicines.

Learn More:

To help with this effort, we are sending you our Guide to Drugs and Older People. It lists a number of medicines that may be inappropriate for older individuals.

If you prefer to order by mail rather than online, you may send $3 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope to:

Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy

No. O-85

P. O. Box 52027

Durham, NC 27717-2027

You might also be interested in listening to our interview with Drs. Mitchell Heflin of Duke University School of Medicine and Laura Hanson of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. They discussed the importance of deprescribing to avoid excess medicines, especially for the elderly.

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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. .
Drugs and Older People

Download this guide to drugs that are usually inappropriate for older people. Avoiding drug-induced forgetfulness and falls.

Drugs and Older People
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I thought part of seeing a doctor was having them know and review your medicines. Every doctor I have ever seen, insisted on knowing what I take and even the vitamins and supplements I take. So why should an elderly person end up with several types of blood pressure meds? To me, that sounds like neglect on both the doctor and the pharmacies.

Recently, my pharmacy was going to give me two of the same kind of drugs when the doctor changed my medicine. I had to refuse one of them. I thought they were experts on drugs and would know better than to give me two drugs for the same purpose. I had another experience from another drug store that showed me that the druggist does not question what the doctor prescribes at all. It seems to me that there is no real communication between the doctor’s office and the druggist when there really should be, so that over medication and confused signals about what the patient should have, doesn’t happen. In fact, I think both should be held accountable if damage to a patient happens because of these unjustified mix ups. They are the experts. They should be held accountable.

In my opinion it is very important to search out a geriatrician as your PCP or a geriatric NP after the age of 60. We took our children to a pediatrician during their younger years so why not have a well informed physician or NP care for us in our older years.

Chances are they won’t pat you on the back and say “it’s just your age sweetheart” or “it’s just part of the aging process”.

Find a good geriatrician and use one pharmacy to improve your chances of better care.

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