Is Your Loved One Taking Too Many Prescription Drugs

Pamela Cannaday by Pamela Cannaday | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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A study published by Harvard Medical School showed that one-third of older adults take at least five or more prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, or dietary supplements. The study also suggest prescription drug use is on the rise. About one in six seniors takes a combination of prescription drugs that could potentially cause a major drug interaction.

If your loved one takes multiple prescription drugs, here’s what you should know about the potential for adverse reactions and prescription drug abuse.

What is prescription drug abuse in seniors?

According to the Center for Applied Research Solutions (CARS), it’s important to differentiate between prescription drug misuse and prescription drug abuse. Misuse occurs when seniors don’t take their prescription drugs as prescribed, either willfully or accidentally. Misuse can result in treatment failure and additional medical expenses in terms of doctor visits, lab tests, and even hospital admissions.

Prescription drug abuse, on the other hand, occurs when someone intentionally takes prescription drugs that are not medically necessary. The CARS report suggests that between 12% and 15% of seniors who seek medical care are engaging in prescription drug abuse.

Are there prescription drugs seniors should avoid?

The American Geriatrics Society Health in Aging Foundation publishes a list of prescription drugs that should be avoided by, or used with caution in seniors. This list is based on the Beers criteria, guidelines considered a “valuable tool for clinical care,” according to an article published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The list includes the following potentially inappropriate prescription drugs:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) in seniors with heart failure.
  • Tertiary tricyclic antidepressants in seniors with dizziness and fainting.
  • Anticholinergic drugs, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and sedative hypnotics in seniors with delirium.
  • Oral decongestants and stimulant prescription drugs in seniors with insomnia.

The list also suggests that certain prescription drugs that cause dizziness, drowsiness, or affect coordination should be avoided in seniors with a history of falls and fractures.

The Health in Aging Foundation recommends asking your health care provider about safer alternatives if they order any problematic prescription drugs on the list. It’s important to note that you should always follow your doctor’s directions exactly to avoid the potential for adverse reactions or prescription drug abuse.

What can I do to avoid prescription drug abuse or potentially dangerous interactions from prescription drugs?

The Health in Aging Foundation offers the following tips to help you better manage your loved one’s prescription drugs:

  • Keep a list of all prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and supplements your loved one takes and bring it with you to every doctor appointment or other health care visit.
  • Ask your doctor about potential side effects for every medication your loved one takes. If he or she is given new prescription drugs, don’t be afraid to ask if there is a possibility of drug interaction with other medications your loved one takes.

The CARS research also cautions that many symptoms of prescription drug abuse are similar to otherwise normal effects of aging. Memory loss, loss of balance, shaking hands, depression, and mood swings may signal the possibility of prescription drug abuse or misuse, so if you are concerned about your loved one’s use of prescription drugs, talk to your health care provider.

Need more information about prescription drug abuse and seniors?

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