A Case for Fewer and Safer Drugs

Medication management is a serious concern for older adults; not only do seniors risk dangerous drug interaction by taking multiple medications, but polypharmacy can also lead to poorer physical function, cognitive problems or necessitate a move into long-term care.  And recent research has found that although prescription medication use has dramatically increased among older adults in recent years, not all drugs prescribed to older adults remain necessary or beneficial over time. 

Always talk first with your doctor about what medications you’re are taking and if there are newer, safer alternatives or if a medication may no longer offer a significant health benefit.   As we age, the body may become more sensitive to the effects of medications and not able to metabolize drugs as well.  Prescription drugs should be carefully reviewed annually or if there is a change in health or a new medication added to a patient’s regime.  

If you are over 65 and concerned about the drugs you have been taking regularly, you can visit the Canadian Deprescribing Network to learn more about some of the medications that may be a concern.  But never stop taking a drug without consulting a doctor, nurse or pharmacist first.  Some drugs need to be weaned off of slowly; don’t stop cold turkey without talking to your primary health care provider first. 

Recent research has led to a heightened awareness about the dangers of sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication and antipsychotic medication use among older adults.  Drugs that have a sedative effect may increase the risk for memory and concentration problems, daytime fatigue, a greater risk of falls and fractures and an increased risk for motor vehicle accidents.   Even ibuprofen and other NSAID anti-inflammatory drugs can cause serious health problems over time in people with high blood pressure, heart failure or kidney disease.  NSAIDs can also interfere with the effects of some high blood pressure medication.  

In addition to drug interactions and side effects, poor adherence to medication regimes can also cause problems for older patients.  Caregivers for elderly loved-ones can help with medication management by keeping an up-to-date list of all medications and if necessary set up an automated medication dispenser to ensure poor eyesight, confusion or forgetfulness doesn’t cause patients to skip or double up on doses.   Learn more about managing multiple medications by following this link to the American Nurse Today journal.