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Medication Complications in the Elderly

The number of people 65 and older in the U.S. is expected to double to 72 million people in the next 15 years.

As people age and live longer, many of them must take medication for age-related ailments and other health issues. As the population of older adults and the number of prescription medications on the market grows, so will the potential for medication complications in the elderly.

Following the instructions on prescription medications, knowing what medicines you take and how they interact with each other becomes more critical as someone gets older. Seniors who live alone, take three or more medications or have memory problems are at a higher risk for medication complications. Those who get prescriptions from more than one doctor or fill prescriptions at more than one pharmacy also may have challenges with managing their medications. If you or your loved one falls into any of these categories, here are some ways to prevent medication complications from happening and to stay safe.

Why Medical Complications Occur

About a third of older adults experience side effects from their medication every year.

One reason is because our bodies change as we get older, which can increase the likelihood of adverse reactions. People 65 and older also tend to have multiple health conditions that require different medications, also leading to increased risks for negative drug interactions.

That’s why health experts have developed criteria for potentially inappropriate medication use in older adults. The Beers Criteria outlines the safety of available medications on the market and their suitability for seniors. It includes 34 medications that may be inappropriate for older adults because they could have a higher risk of side effects, may be ineffective or because they can be replaced with safer drugs. It also lists 14 medications for common health problems that aren’t appropriate for seniors.

If you are concerned about the risk of drug interactions for you or your loved one, talk to your doctor about what medications will work best for you and which ones you should avoid.

What You Can Do

First and foremost, it’s important to discuss all the medications you are taking with your doctor. He or she can identify any possible complications beforehand and instead prescribe medications that may be just as effective, but minimize your risk for adverse drug interactions. Even after your doctor prescribes medications, he or she will monitor how you respond to them and make adjustments to your prescriptions as needed. If you or your caregivers also notice that your medications aren’t working well or are making you feel ill, tell your doctor right away.

You also should keep a list of all prescription and non-prescription medications you take and their dosages. For older adults, this list can be ever-changing and increase over time, so it’s important to consistently track all your prescriptions and inform your doctor of any updates.

And before your doctor prescribes new medication, ask about the potential side effects and whether there are other medications you can take that either minimize or completely avoid these complications. If any of your medications are on the Beers Criteria list, talk to your doctor to get more information about what to do. You may or may not need to switch prescriptions, depending on how you initially respond to the medication.

If you’re concerned about medication complications, talk to your doctor before you stop taking your prescriptions. Medications help control various health issues you experience with aging, so never throw them out or stop taking them before consulting your doctor first.

 

 

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