The People's Perspective on Medicine

Some Drugs Should Not Be Given to an Elderly Person

Certain drugs should not be given to an elderly person because they can cause confusion and memory problems or interfere with balance, leading to a fall.
Elderly person

Sometimes it seems as if the very people who are most likely to be taking medications are those who are most vulnerable to side effects, not to mention interactions. Of course, accumulating birthdays also may mean collecting a number of chronic conditions that might need treatment.

We think, though, that both physicians and patients (and the patients’ families) ought to be very cautious about adding extra medicines to the regimen an older person is following. Whenever it is possible to address the problem with a non-drug approach, that would be preferable. This reader offers a perfect illustration of why multiple medications (called “polypharmacy” by doctors, nurses, PAs and pharmacists) can be problematic for an elderly person.

Q. We had to take our mother to the hospital because she had fallen and broke a rib. Part of the admitting process was listing all the meds she was on.

Sleeping Medicine May Have Led to Fall

The hospitalist who saw her reviewed the list and asked, “Why is she taking such and such medications?” We didn’t know just what had been prescribed to help her sleep at night. The doctor said these meds can make the elderly fall and that such drugs should not be given to an elderly person age 80!

We are now attending doctor visits and taking notes. We are trying to have her see just one doctor and use one pharmacy to have better oversight.

After she was discharged from the hospital we had to endure her benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms. How can we learn what other drugs she should avoid?

A. There are a number of drugs that should rarely if ever be prescribed to elderly people.

Which Drugs Should Not Be Given to an Elderly Person?

Many doctors keep this in mind, but some aren’t aware of what to avoid. That’s why it is crucial for family members to be vigilant. We are sending you our Guide to Drugs and Older People, which has such a list.

Drugs That Lead to Confusion

It also lists medications that can contribute to confusion in senior citizens. Too often, when an older adult begins to have cognitive trouble, the family or the doctor attributes this to “getting older.” Sometimes even the patient herself believes that is the problem. In such cases, every medicine that the person is on should be re-evaluated, as quite a number are capable of affecting memory or mental sharpness.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
    Drugs and Older People
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    I have previously had difficulty navigating your site. I hope you can make it easier to follow.

    I would appreciate up-to-date information on drugs and the elderly.

    I would like to be able to order a hard copy of Drugs and Older People.
    Is that possible?

    Yeah! I agree with Eileen. I clicked on this fully expecting to see what those “drugs that shouldn’t be given to elderly patients” were. But: nothing. I don’t think this kind of situation is on the rise, however; usually your articles are very accessible and full of good info. At any rate, it’s a moot point for me because I take no Rx meds and am so very glad of it. Cheers!

    If doctors had not allowed themselves to become employees, perhaps medical care in this country would not be in a crisis situation. I used to go to a large group, started and owned by doctors, even as it grew. Then they sold; many left with their share of the profit to take early retirements, those who were left and who were hired on were no longer able to set their own standards. My ob-gyn was one who stayed and we talked about it. Tho he was still on the board, the owners wanted him to see 32 patients a day! At 28 a day, the new owners first change, he felt overburdened. How could he deliver babies and see that many patients a day? He had two choices: leave or go part time. Part time was less than 32 patients a day. Those who used to visit patients in the hospital were no longer able to do so; they took our pcp (a fairly new employee) and told him he was going to be a hospitalist. That was to keep the other doctors seeing 32 patients a day! So how can they do a good job of providing excellent health care, put everything into the computer and see that many people a day? At 77, I am still able to oversee my own health care; but when my mother was my age, I took care of her. I have no daughter, nor any relative, to do for me what I did for my mother and I bet a lot of readers here are in the same boat. Should we all be provided with case workers?

    Not sure why you could not list the top 5 drugs that should never be described. More important to sell you guide? Too much of this lately — more pushing of your products and less helpful information.

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