Monday, April 15, 2013

Seniors! Are you taking one of the 110 most dangerous drugs for older people? Want to know? Read further!

The April 15, 2013, New York Times reports that US medical doctors are routinely prescribing drugs that can be harmful to older patients.  Medicare recipients in the US South are getting prescriptions that can hurt them seriously.  Apparently one in five older persons living in the South are taking drugs that are dangerous. Other US regions have fewer seniors who are taking such drugs regularly.

Are the patients poor? Do they lack education? Have unqualified doctors?  Are they persons of color? Researchers say that poor people are more likely to be taking these drugs.  As socioeconomic status declined, for example, the likelihood of being prescribed a high-risk drug increases.

New York Times reporters drew much of their information from medical experts who published their findings in the latest issue of The Journal of General Internal Medicine. "For the study, they referred to a list of 110 drugs to avoid in the elderly, compiled by the National Committee for Quality Assurance. Many of these drugs are widely used, often with few or moderate side effects in younger patients.  However, risks get bigger among elders.

On the list are anti-anxiety medications like Valium. This drug can be harder for older patients to metabolize.  It stays in the system and "can lead to prolonged sedation, and in turn potentially deadly falls and fractures." Several muscle relaxants and diabetes medications can also remain in elderly patients’ bodies for longer periods, causing complications.

Researchers examined records of more than six million older men and women in the US enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans. "Over all, they found that 1.3 million of those seniors, or roughly one in five, had been prescribed at least one high-risk medication in 2009 even though many of the drugs were available in safer versions. About 5 percent of the seniors in the study had been prescribed at least two medications from the list," the NY Times reports.

Using many medications, known as "polypharmacy," is a growing problem among seniors. Researchers found that the "average person over 65 takes at least four prescription drugs — a practice that can lead to dangerous and unexpected interactions."  Taking many drugs is creating a serious public health problem. . . and it affects seniors more than anyone else.

What drugs are you taking?  Check out their safety.  Now!

What can you do?  Talk to your doctor and your pharmacist to find out about the drugs that you are taking.  Are they safe?  What is their record?  If these resources are too busy to tell you, reporters  suggest using the internet to query the records and warnings of medications you are taking.

Protect yourself.

Susanne Paul for Global Action on Aging

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