Dangerous Trend: Seniors Misusing Prescription Drugs

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The connection is one that we are all familiar with — with older age comes more medication for many of us. While many prescription drugs can help with myriad illnesses and conditions that are common in our senior years, what many of us may not be aware of is just how seniors are taking these drugs incorrectly. Are they taking too much or too little of their medications?

 According to a new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the answer is both — overuse and underuse of prescription drugs is an occurrence that is prevalent in individuals who have hit their golden years, which is a serious cause for concern.

 It turns out that the more drugs an older individual must take to help treat and control his/her conditions, the more likely it is that he/she may also be taking inappropriate drugs and doses as well.

 The key word here is “polypharmacy,” or the prescription of multiple drugs at once, as well as the inappropriate and unnecessary prescription of medications. In the study, the researchers looked at patients who were taking five or more drugs at one time. The average age of the participants was 75 years, where the number of drugs they were taking ranged from five all the way up to 17 (the average sat at eight).

 In the study, researchers looked at 196 study participants and discovered that 65% of them were on at least one drug that they didn’t have to be taking. This could have been due to a duplication of the drug they were supposed to be taking or that they were taking a drug that was not recommended for their age bracket.

 According to Dr. Michael Steinman, head researcher of the study, when it came to patients who were prescribed multiple drugs, “The steep rise in inappropriate medication use with increasing numbers of drugs provides a striking confirmation of the potential harms and need for extra vigilance.”

 Overuse wasn’t the only problem the researchers uncovered — underuse was also noted, with 64% of the participants not getting the prescription drugs they needed, which they should have been taking. And, yes, it gets even worse: 42% of the participants were simultaneously both underusing and overusing prescription drugs. This is staggering, as is the fact that out of all the individuals in the study, a scant 13% were neither overusing nor underusing prescription medications.

 It also turned out that the more drugs a person took, the higher their chances were for taking them inappropriately. Where participants who were taking five or six drugs ended up averaging less than one inappropriate drug, those taking seven to nine prescriptions were also taking, on average, one wrongly prescribed drug at the same time. When it came to under prescribing a medication, it didn’t matter how many drugs a person was taking. Overuse was more common than underuse — yet both problems need to be addressed, according to the researchers.

 These findings may not sound too startling to many of us, as prescription drug abuse is not a new problem on the scene — however, it is one that only you can take direct control of. Speak to your doctor or health care provider about the drugs you are taking. Be proactive and research your condition or illness, and find out all you can about the different treatment options available to you. If you need to get a second opinion, do so.

 Don’t let the worry of offending your doctor get in the way. It’s your health and your life — take full control of it