An 83-year-old grandmother is rushed to the hospital because of an asthma attack. Once there, she is prescribed steroids for the asthma, which causes her blood pressure to skyrocket. To lower her blood pressure, the hospital prescribes a medicine that makes her dizzy. Then, her ankles began to swell, so she is given a water pill, which causes her level of potassium to drop. So the doctors add potassium supplements. She is also given a drug to treat osteoporosis, which causes her stomach to bleed. At the end of her stay, the grandmother comments, “I came out sicker than when I went in.”
This is just one real-life story of an ever-growing epidemic – the overmedication of America, and the elderly in particular. In 2011, doctors wrote 4.02 billion prescriptions for drugs in America. That’s an average of roughly 13 prescriptions for each man, woman, and child, or one new prescription every month for every American.
Seniors are at greater risk
The problem is even more pronounced among the elderly. Although seniors currently comprise 12.4 percent of the U.S. population, they consume nearly a third of all prescriptions and half of all over-the-counter medications. Ninety percent of all seniors over 65 take some form of medication daily, with 50 percent of this group taking more than five drugs every day. A recent study found approximately one in five prescriptions written for elderly patients was inappropriate.
Why it happens
Researchers at the University of Toronto and at Harvard have clearly documented and articulated what they call the “prescribing cascade.” It begins when a new symptom emerges, resulting from an adverse reaction to their medication. But instead of being seen for what it is, doctors misinterpret it as a new medical condition. So another drug is then prescribed to treat the new symptom placing the patient at risk of developing additional adverse effects relating to this potentially unnecessary treatment. Seniors who are overmedicated have been mistakenly diagnosed with numerous ailments, including depression, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
The risks of overmedication
Excess or inappropriate medication, or mixing medications, can have serious complications. From 2007 to 2009, there were an estimated 99,628 emergency hospitalizations annually for adverse drug events in individuals 65 years and older. The Institute of Medicine estimates that medication-related problems among the elderly costs billions of dollars. One-third of prescription-related deaths are of elderly persons.
How to protect yourself or someone you love
Most seniors don’t question their doctors. They trust them to look out for their well-being, sowhen a doctor says, “Do this, you’ll feel better,” they tend to believe it. If you want to protect yourself or a loved one, here are some things you can do:
· Gather all the pills you are taking – including over-the-counter medication – and take them to a doctor or pharmacist for review. Ask specifically about contraindications with other medications. Ensure the dosages are still appropriate. If you don’t know what a medication is for, ask.
· Whenever a doctor prescribes a new medication, ask what it’s for and if you really need it. Tell your doctor everything you are currently taking and if the new prescription will have any adverse reactions with anything you’re currently taking.
· If you become ill, ask your doctor if your symptoms match any potential side effects of any medication you’re taking.
· Most important, be an advocate for yourself. Become informed about the medication you’re taking and their side effects. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If a medication is making you sick, ask your doctor for an alternative.
For more information about possible drug interactions, please visit http://www.drugs.com/drug_interactions.html.