One-third of older Americans prescribed potentially inappropriate, harmful drugs

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As people get older, the odds go up they’ll need some kind of medication to keep them healthy. Although prescription drugs can be beneficial, a study finds many seniors in the United States are receiving prescriptions for medications that are doing more harm than good. Researchers at the University at Buffalo say one-third of older Americans are taking a medication they shouldn’t be using.

The study reveals potentially inappropriate medications increase the chances of hospitalization and also costs patients over $450 more each year. A survey of over 218 million older adults finds 34 percent have been prescribed at least one possibly unsuitable drug. This group, on average, takes twice as many medications, is nearly twice as likely to be hospitalized, and is more likely to visit their primary care doctor than older patients not taking inappropriate prescriptions.

“Although efforts to de-prescribe have increased significantly over the last decade, potentially inappropriate medications continue to be prescribed at a high rate among older adults in the United States,” says lead investigator David Jacobs in a university release.

Lifespans are growing and so are medicine cabinets

“The average age of the U.S. population is rising, and older adults account for a disproportionate amount of prescription medications,” study first author Collin Clark explains. “Harm to older adults caused by potentially inappropriate medications is a major public health challenge.”

Researchers say the risk of harmful side-effects from prescription drugs continues to rise as we age. The study recommends older adults avoid medicines that actually come with more risks than benefits. They add older adults should also opt for alternative treatments that come with fewer health risks if they’re available.

The study examined data from the 2011-2015 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which is conducted each year by U.S. Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Researchers looked at the impacts of 33 potentially inappropriate medications or classes of drugs given to adults over the age of 65. These included antidepressants, barbiturates, androgens, estrogens, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamines, and antipsychotics.

Costly mistakes for prescription drugs

Not only are these questionable prescriptions raising the risk for health complications, they’re also taking more money out of a patient’s pocket. Researchers find older adults spend an extra $458 on health care when they are prescribed inappropriate drugs. The prescriptions themselves cost an extra $128 annually.

“De-prescribing is currently at an early stage in the United States. Further work is needed to implement interventions that target unnecessary and inappropriate medications in older adults,” says Jacobs.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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