Senior citizens and unnecessary medications

December 17, 2017 07:58 PM

ROCHESTER—It’s being called an overlooked epidemic by those in the medical community, a new study published by Kaiser Health News shows most senior citizens are taking more medications than medically necessary.  25% of people over the age of 65 are taking at least 5 medications and that number jumps to nearly 46% over the age of 70.  

Chris Votraw is from Rochester and is currently taking a number of medications, “I have a chronic pain problem and I couldn't live without them,” she told News10NBC.  Over the years, she says, the list of what she is taking has grown as has the price, “you do notice how much Medicare and Medicaid are having to pay in order for me to have these drugs, I'm fearful of it getting to be too high and they're going to say, no, we can't do this,” she says.  

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Millions of seniors rely on multiple medications but doctors say, in most cases, there are some pills that could be eliminated, “when you get to over 5 medications, you start to see side effects.  When you get to over 9 medications, you're having side effects, you just may not look for them,” says Dr. Steve Ryan the Medical Director at ElderONE, a local all-inclusive program for the elderly.  He also notes that medications metabolize differently in senior citizens and can lead to other complications.  

In many cases, patients who are experiencing side effects, want another prescription to deal with them and that can create a cascade effect.  The Kaiser study shows for many patents, the problems arise when they are discharged from the hospital with new medications which then get layered on top of the old ones.    

“For as much training as we physicians get for how to prescribe and how to choose the right drug, we don't get as much training on how to de-prescribe, how to stop that medication,” says Dr. Ryan.   While electronic medical and prescription records have helped, in many cases primary care physicians may not know or realize exactly what a specialist has prescribed for a patient. 

Dr. Ryan says it’s simple, the next time you go in, “bring all your pills,” that way your primary care doctor can see exactly what and how much you’re taking.  He or she can also determine whether mixing the medications is causing issues with their potency or effectiveness.  Often, senior citizens may feel uncomfortable about questioning a doctor but Dr. Ryan says its necessary to make sure you’re getting the most effective care.


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