New Research Shows the Elderly are at Risk of Health Problems Through Mixing Medications

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Preeti Malani, M.D., is a professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School. She was also the director of a recent poll conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M's academic medical centre.

The poll was conducted to see whether older Americans know of - or have been informed of - the risks of taking multiple different medicines every day. Risks include mixing prescription drugs with other substances, including over the counter medicines, food and alcohol and other substances.

The results come from a nationally representative sample of 1,690 Americans between the ages of 50 and 80. The poll respondents answered a variety of questions online. Questions were written, and data interpreted and compiled, by the IHPI team.

The results were quite shocking, as they showed that only one in three older Americans who take at least one prescription drugs have spoken to anyone about potential drug interactions within the past two years. What’s even more worrying, is that out of those taking six or more different medicines daily, just 44% had spoken to someone about potentially harmful drug interactions.

Lack of communication is one of the main reasons older Americans are at risk of clashes between their medications. This could partly be due to how most older Americans actually choose to receive their medications and their healthcare. Around one in five Americans polled said that over the past two years, that they have used more than one pharmacy to collect their medication; and three in five regularly see multiple different doctors.

Whilst 63% of people polled feel that both their pharmacist and doctor are equally responsible for checking if they are taking multiple medications and discussing potentially harmful drug interactions, just 36% said that their pharmacist was fully aware of all the medications they were currently taking.
Preeti has voiced her concerns based on the lack of communication between older Americans and their doctors and pharmacists, “interactions between drugs and other substances are putting older people at serious risk of accidents from sleepiness and even kidney damage.”

“It is essential that anyone who takes any medication should always talk to a healthcare professional about these potential risks.”

Preeti and her other colleagues believe that it is the patient’s pharmacist’s and doctor’s responsibility to actively reduce drug interaction risks. They advise patients to note the names and dosages of their prescription medications, as well as their other supplements and over-the-counter drugs before they visit their doctor or pharmacist. One other important factor people need to abide by is to be completely honest about their alcohol and other substance consumption when asked by their doctor and/or pharmacist, as these substances will alter how most medications work. And if anyone is experiencing a potential side effect, they should speak with either the doctor or pharmacist first before they stop taking their medication.

Are we over medicating? Could there be benefits or using complementary therapies to treat the elderly population instead of drug therapies? Let us know your thoughts and you could be included in the March issue of Therapy Today: