Taking Too Many Medications? Why Older People Are Uniquely Affected

Use all resources to ensure medication safety
elderly man with medications

Contributors: Natalia Tarasiuk, PharmD and Marigel Constantiner, RPh, MS, BCPS, CGP

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As more Americans struggle with chronic illnesses, there comes a need for medications. Besides  prescription drugs, many people also take over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements — all of which increase the physical burden associated with taking different substances.

Problems can arise with multiple medications

If you take multiple medications, especially if it’s more than five, it’s important to work closely with your doctor to manage their effects.

Problems also can occur when medications are not used appropriately.

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This includes using:

  • A drug that isn’t appropriate therapy for a condition
  • Multiple medications to treat the same condition
  • Medications that interact with each other
  • Inappropriate dosage
  • Medication to counteract the side effects of another medication (also called a prescribing cascade)

How older people are uniquely affected

Another thing to consider is that as people age, they tend to be more affected in their daily functioning as a result of diseases or other health conditions. In addition, increased drug consumption also affects people more profoundly as they get older.

Older people are more susceptible to medication-related problems, including:

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  1. Blood pressure drops when you stand (causing lightheadedness)
  2. Memory lapses or other cognitive changes
  3. Falling/injury
  4. Difficulty with adhering to instructions when taking medications.

Your doctor, along with their healthcare team, can work together to effectively manage these issues.

Tips to lower your risk of medication problems

  • Keep your doctor in the loop. Talk about any and all side affects you notice, especially when starting new drugs. Be sure your record is up-to-date about everything you take, including dosages and supplements.
  • Talk to your pharmacist. They can help you reconcile your medications and offer valuable advice about managing them.

Remember that proper disease and condition management is a partnership. You depend on your doctor for diagnosis and for prescribing the right medication and your doctor depends on you to be forthcoming and to use medications as prescribed.

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