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Reducing The Risk of Medication Complications

Reducing The Risk of Medication Complications

Elderly Americans face numerous health challenges, but – surprisingly – among the most significant threats to seniors are adverse reactions to medications.

Statistics tell the story:

  • While the elderly represent only about 13% of the population, they consume 40% of prescribed drugs and 35% of all over-the-counter medications.
  • On average, those 65 to 69 years old take some 14 prescriptions annually; individuals ages 80 to 84 take an average of 18 prescriptions per year.
  • More than 40 percent of people 65 and older take five or more medications, and each year over one-third experience a drug side effect or other adverse events.
  • Experts believe that from 15% to 25% of prescription medication consumed by seniors is unnecessary or inappropriate.
  • Adverse drug reactions – combined with not taking medications as prescribed -- are responsible for 28% of elderly hospitalizations.
  • An estimated 36% of all reported adverse drug reactions involve an older adult.
  • Each year, 32,000 seniors suffer hip fractures caused by medication-related issues.

In light of these disconcerting stats, ATRIO Health Plans is joining October’s

Talk About Your Medicines Month efforts to increase awareness about prescription medications that potentially can be harmful to the elderly and steps seniors can take to reduce the risk of adverse drug reactions.

Medication Watch List

To help older adults avoid adverse drug reactions, the American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Healthy Aging urges seniors to be cautious when using certain types of medications, some of which are available over-the-counter. Do not make any medication decisions, however, without first consulting your healthcare provider.

It is advised to consult your healthcare provider before taking:

  • Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – Used to reduce pain and inflammation, long-acting NSAIDs such as indomethacin (Indocin) and piroxicam (Feldene) can be harmful.
  • Digoxin (Lanoxin) – Prescribed to treat heart failure and irregular heartbeats, doses of digoxin greater than 0.125 mg. should be avoided.
  • Certain Diabetes Drugs – These include Glyburide (Diabeta, Micronase) and chlorpropamide (Diabinese).
  • Muscle Relaxants – Such as cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), methocarbamol (Robaxin), and carisoprodol (Soma).
  • Some Medications used for Anxiety and/or Insomnia – This category includes Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), or chlordiazepoxide (Librium), as well as sleeping pills such as zaleplon (Sonata) and zolpidem (Ambien).
  • Certain Anticholinergic Drugs – Among these are: antidepressants, including amitriptyline (Elavil) and imipramine (Tofranil); anti-Parkinson drug trihexyphenidyl (Artane); irritable bowel syndrome drug dicyclomine (Bentyl); and overactive bladder drug oxybutynin (Ditropan).
  • Meperidine (Demerol) – Prescribed to relieve pain.
  • Some Over-the-Counter Products – Avoid products that contain the antihistamines diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine (Aller-Chlor, Chlor-Trimeton), as well as sleep products, such as Tylenol PM, which contain diphenhydramine.
  • Antipsychotics – Unless you’re being treated for psychosis, be cautious if prescribed haloperidol (Haldol), risperidone (Risperdal), or quetiapine (Seroquel).
  • Estrogen – Estrogen pills and patches should be thoroughly evaluated before using.

Ask Questions

When being prescribed a new medication, seniors should ask their healthcare provider these questions:

  1. What’s the brand and/or generic name of the medication, and what specifically is it for?
  2. How and when do I take it, and for how long?
  3. What side effects should I expect, and what should I do about them?
  4. Should I take this medication on an empty stomach or with food?
  5. Should I avoid any activities, foods, drinks, alcohol or other medicines while taking this prescription?
  6. If it’s a once-a-day dose, is it best to take it in the morning or evening?
  7. Can this medication be taken safely with the other medications and over-the-counter products that I’m taking?
  8. When should I expect this medication to take effect, and how will I know if it’s working?
  9. How should I store this medication?
  10. Is there any additional written information I should review about this medication?

Medication knowledge is key to avoiding adverse drug reactions.