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Seniors and Over Medication: The Problem with Too Many Prescriptions

20 July 2021

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When we think about medicine, our thoughts tend to gravitate towards the positive. Medications are generally considered good, helpful, and beneficial for our health. They help treat our illnesses and reduce suffering and pain that would otherwise make life much harder for millions of people. 


Unfortunately, there is such a thing as taking too much medication, also known as polypharmacy. This is an especially pressing concern for seniors and elderly individuals who metabolize medicine differently as they age. 


In fact, as our population continues to grow older, this problem of polypharmacy is becoming more and more concerning. It is a significant cause of increased frailness, falls, and disability among seniors.

Seniors and Multiple Prescriptions 

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You may be surprised to learn that approximately 35% of American seniors aged 60-79 years old use five or more prescription drugs every single day. Each medication of course comes with it’s own side effects and that’s why mixing multiple prescriptions can lead to unpredictable outcomes. 


Hundreds of people are hospitalized every single day due to negative side effects from combining medications. In fact, the more medications a person takes, the higher the likelihood that these prescriptions will interact in a dangerous manner. Possible health issues from over medication include lightheadedness, memory loss, confusion, and internal bleeding. 


Obviously, any of these health problems are dangerous for seniors on their own. These problems can stem not just from prescriptions, but also from over-the-counter medicine or even dietary supplements. Seniors can easily take these without keeping their doctor in the loop. Sadly, drug manufacturing is a profitable business in our country and will continue to be as the overall population ages further. 

How to Avoid the Dangers of Polypharmacy 

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Thankfully, there are things that seniors and their loved ones can do to cut back on their prescriptions. A good first step is to get a good understanding of what medication is currently being taken and why. You may be surprised at the reasons and realize that certain prescriptions may not be needed anymore. Medicines also expire and need to be safely disposed of before that happens. 


Many seniors and their families are considering “deprescribing”, which entails cutting the dosage of medications that may be harmful, or even cutting them out entirely. This is done with their doctor and can have lots of positive benefits for aging adults. For example, when done properly, deprescribing can lead to lower levels of cognitive decline and higher quality of life. 


Healthcare providers are starting to look at more ways to reduce the risks that come with taking medications. This can be done by learning more about a patient’s lifestyle and how medication may be interfering in their daily activities.


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It is so important to talk to your physician about concerns you may have about overmedication. Make sure to ask about how prescriptions interact and any possible negative side effects you may already be experiencing. 


Ask if it’s possible to cut back on medication or eliminate them entirely. Although this may not be possible right away, there’s a chance that medications could be slowly decreased over time. Taking a proactive approach and staying aware of the dangers of overmedication can be a great way to avoid the dangers that come with polypharmacy.

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