Use of Medication
Many older people are not aware of the age related changes that make their bodies more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, drugs and medications. As we age, our bodies experience changes (i.e. enzyme, metabolic and body composition changes) that impact the absorption, processing and excretion of medications.
Some drugs may actually have the opposite effect in an older body than they do in a younger body. Unfortunately, most drug testing is done on younger people and dosage recommendations are often based on the effects measured in younger bodies.
Approximately 75% of people over the age of 65 take a prescription medication. The average number of medications an older adult may be using at any given time is five. More than half of medications commonly prescribed to older adults havr some sedating side effects.
Given these facts and the knowledge that older adult body systems are changing, it is easier for us to understand the ease with which an older adult can fall victim to the problems of negative medication effects. Unfortunately, the cost of medications and certain access issues results in many people skipping doses, sharing medications or otherwise altering a prescription. This can be very dangerous and it can worsen illnesses. If you cannot take a medication as prescribed, tell your health care professional and be honest about the reasons — there might be another way to meet your medication needs.
Older adults are the greatest consumers of over-the-counter (OTC) medications (antacids, cold remedies, laxatives, sleep aids, etc.) and “nutriceuticals” (herbals, dietary supplements, vitamins, etc) accounting for 30% of all OTC sales. A common myth of these substances is that they are “safe” simply because they are readily available and not subject to the same FDA (Federal Drug Administration) standards. In fact, OTC’s and nutriceuticals can have significant side effects and negative interactions with other drugs. Some can be habit forming and some can be dangerous to individuals with dementia and certain illnesses.
Whatever the drug, dangerous substance misuse / abuse by older adults in our culture goes under-estimated, under-identified, under-diagnosed and under-treated. This happens for a many of reasons including; confusion of symptoms with other problems, lack of education, denial, ageism, myths, stigma and limited research and data.
Anyone who has been on a long-term medication should have the medication and dosage reviewed. The types of medications or dosage strength of long term medications may need to be changed with age and onset of other illnesses.
Responsible medication use includes some of the following:
- Informing doctor of all prescription and non-prescription substances you take, including the amount of alcohol you drink
- Follow the directions on the label
- Know what time of day, and how many times per day to take a medication
- Know if you should take the medication with food or without
- Ask if any of your medications might react with other prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, alcohol or foods
- Keep track of any side effects you experience and report these to your health care provider
- Review all medications with your health care provider every six to twelve months to evaluate their necessity, therapeutic effect and dose appropriateness