Seniors on Drugs


A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that drug reactions kill an estimated 100,000 people a year in U.S. hospitals. The research also claims that another 2.1 million are injured by adverse reactions. The elderly are especially vulnerable because of the number of drugs they take.

Senior Alert

Among the more common side effects of multiple medications are dizziness and confusion. Before anyone decides Dad now has Alzheimer's, make sure his physician rules out medications as a factor. Some doctors put their patients on a "drug holiday," slowly taking them off all drugs to determine exactly what's going on.

No, I'm not talking about seniors in high school or college. America's “other drug problem” is among seniors 65 years-plus. These seniors are swallowing one-third of all the prescriptions out there, yet they make up only 13 percent of the population. And this doesn't include the over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that the senior crowd takes -- like aspirin, cold medicines, antacids, vitamins, and laxatives. On that front, they buy 40 percent of all the OTC drugs in the country.

Drugs That Don't Get Along

The most dangerous problem that older adults face when taking drugs is how multiple drugs interact with each other. One quarter of the elderly take at least three drugs a day. The older they are, the more drugs they take. The more drugs they take, the greater the risk in having the combination of drugs kick off a significant health problem.

Chances are your mom and dad have more than one chronic condition, so they get to meet a number of specialists. As they visit one doctor after the next, they might walk away from each visit with a prescription in hand. If they forgot to tell either doctor about what they're taking, they've placed themselves in danger of an adverse drug reaction. Besides taking drugs that may negatively interact with each other, your parents might also be taking the same drug twice— and not know it.

One doctor might give a drug in the generic name and another in the brand name. Our parents might think that they are taking two separate drugs because the names are very different and the pills don't look alike. If the doctors are unaware of what Mom or Dad is taking, or your pharmacist doesn't pick up the double whammy, your parents could be in for some serious trouble.

Not all drugs or combinations of drugs are bad. For instance, a physician might prescribe an anti-ulcer medication with an anti-inflammatory medication. The doctor is doing this because the anti-inflammatory drug can cause severe irritation to the lining of the stomach. So as a precautionary measure, he or she will prescribe the anti-ulcer drug.

More on: Aging Parents


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents © 2001 by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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