Less Is More: Why Seniors May Be Taking Too Many Meds

Posted on Mar 24, 2017

Sometimes less is more, especially when it comes to your medication. Milta Little, D.O., associate professor of geriatrics at Saint Louis University, advises seniors to discuss cutting back on their medications with their healthcare provider. 

Little's research indicates that seniors taking 10 or more medications have a statistically higher mortality rate than those who are taking fewer pills. Moreover, she found that patients taking as few as four medications can experience side effects that reduce their overall quality of life and/or create a risk of future health problems. Seniors should reduce amount of medication

Too Much of a Good Thing

The widespread availability of prescription drugs is often thought of as a miracle of modern medicine. While it's true that medications can be valuable in managing chronic illnesses, they can also create side effects such as headache, dizziness, confusion, nausea, or heartburn. These side effects can sometimes lead to a doctor prescribing a second medication solely to reduce the patient's discomfort—creating a cycle in which the patient ends up adding unnecessary pills to his daily routine instead of fixing the underlying issue.

Seniors are more vulnerable to the issues associated with medication overload simply because they're more likely to see multiple doctors to address concerns such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis. Even when multiple care providers work in the same hospital, they're not always aware of other medications a patient is taking and may prescribe drugs without stopping to consider if they're truly necessary. For example, a doctor could prescribe medication for incontinence without realizing that the patient's condition is linked to frequent urination as a side effect of antidepressant use.

Pharmacists are supposed to provide another level of security in the medication process, but seniors often use multiple pharmacies for their prescriptions as a cost-cutting measure or because their preferred pharmacy doesn't stock a necessary medication. When a pharmacist doesn't have easy access to a full list of the patient's prescriptions, the potential for drug interactions can easily go unnoticed.

Another area of concern for seniors is whether continuous use of a medication is necessary. Over time, medical needs change and a drug that was once appropriate may no longer be needed. For example, an 80-year-old man with high cholesterol who hasn't had a heart attack or stroke within the past year won't derive any significant benefit from a statin. However, many patients in this age group are taking medications first prescribed over a decade ago—when the potential benefits vastly outweighed the risk of side effects.

If a medication is determined to be truly necessary, lowering the dosage may improve a senior's health. Changes in metabolism and body composition as a person ages affect how well medication is absorbed. Often, a half dose reduces side effects without compromising effectiveness.

Being Cautious With Over-the-Counter Medications

When you're discussing your medications with your doctor, it's important to also provide a list of any over-the-counter remedies you're currently using. Just because something is sold without a prescription doesn't mean it can't create problems.

Examples of some potential issues seniors could experience include:

  • Aspirin combined with a blood thinner such as warfarin can cause excessive bleeding.
  • Over-the-counter antacids can prevent heart medications from being absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Cold remedies with decongestants can cause harmful increases in blood pressure if you're taking antihypertensive medication or an MAO inhibitor.
  • Multivitamins with iron can reduce the effects of tetracycline, a commonly used antibiotic.

Investigating Medication Alternatives

Seniors who are currently taking multiple medications may find that non-pharmaceutical alternatives are a better choice for promoting health and wellness. For example, alternative treatments such as yoga and massage can be helpful in addressing the physical discomforts associated with aging. Taking care to eat a nutritionally balanced diet can improve overall energy levels as well as cognitive function.

Protecting Your Legal Rights

In some cases, patients who are prescribed medication that causes harm may have the basis of a malpractice claim. To learn more about your right to compensation, please call Neblett, Beard & Arsenault’s legal team to schedule a case review at one of our six convenient office locations.