Over a Third of Seniors Are Prescribed Unnecessary Drugs and Paying the Price


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Many older adults use prescription medications but according to a recent study, over a quarter of people age 65 and older have been prescribed potentially inappropriate drugs.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, senior Americans are spending an average of $450 on prescription drugs alone. Experts say that not only are the costs for these medications absurd, but the medications themselves might be unnecessary. 

Potentially inappropriate medications are drugs that older adults should avoid since their risks outweigh the benefits of the medication or when lower-risk, effective alternatives are available. The risk of experiencing adverse side effects from medications increases with age.

“Harm to older adults caused by potentially inappropriate medications is a major public health challenge. The average age of the U.S. population is rising, and older adults account for a disproportionate amount of prescription medications,” said Collin Clark, first author on the paper and clinical assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science. 

The study

The analysis was used to study the prescription of 33 potentially inappropriate medications or classes of medications to adults 65+. Some of these medications included: antidepressants, antipsychotics, barbiturates, and estrogens.

Researchers surveyed 218 million-plus older adults and over 34 percent were prescribed at least one potentially inappropriate medication. On average, most patients were prescribed twice as many drugs

In addition to unnecessary medication, researchers discovered that seniors were also twice as likely to be hospitalized or visit the emergency room when a visit to the primary care doctor would have sufficed.  

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Unnecessary costs

Costs were also associated with being prescribed potentially inappropriate medication, as older adults spent an extra $458 on health care, which adds up to an additional $128 on prescription drugs if prescribed these medications.

“De-prescribing is currently at an early stage in the United States,” said David Jacobs, Ph.D., lead investigator and assistant professor of pharmacy practice in the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences said in a statement. “Further work is needed to implement interventions that target unnecessary and inappropriate medications in older adults.”

Lower your drug prices!

According to the Health in Aging Foundation’s public education portal, HealthinAging.org, people age 65 and older take prescribed medications more than any U.S. age group. Seniors can take steps to lower their chances of over medication and poor reactions to the drugs, according to the website. 

Here is your medication checklist:

  • Make a list. Keep an updated list of all of the medications you are on, both prescribed and non-prescribed like over the counter medications, herbal supplements, vitamins, and ointments/creams. Keep up with the doses, what they are for, and bring the list with you whenever you see your doctor. 
  • Review your medications regularly. Be familiar with what you are putting into your body and how they are making you feel.
  • Be aware of the side effects. Ask what side effects your medications can cause, and watch for them. If you think you may be having a bad reaction to a medication, or if you think a medication is not working, tell your healthcare provider as soon as possible. However, don’t stop taking the medication without first checking with a healthcare provider.
  • Take your medication properly. On average, 50 percent of older adults do not follow their healthcare provider’s recommendations about how to take their medications. Abusing medications or not following the prescribed medication’s instructions can lead to additional side effects or worsen your condition(s). 
  • Look Out For Inappropriate Medications. Always ask your doctor or healthcare provider what you are being prescribed and if it is an appropriate medication for your age and your condition. Check AGS Beers Criteria to see if the medication you are being prescribed is listed as “potentially inappropriate.” Ask your doctor if there is a safer or cheaper alternative. 

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