Polypharmacy, or the usage of a number of medicines, is widespread in older adults. Whereas 89% of individuals aged 65 and older take no less than one prescription treatment, 54% take 4 or extra.1 Knowledge from Merck equally discovered that almost 80% of older adults frequently take no less than two prescribed drugs whereas 36% frequently use 5 or extra completely different medicine — and this doesn’t embody over-the-counter medicines.2
Antagonistic results from polypharmacy are widespread and should drive sufferers to hunt out ever-more medicine to deal with the unwanted effects brought on by their unsafe drug routine. It’s a vicious cycle, one which’s perpetuated by a damaged well being care system that revolves round pharmaceutical-driven, fragmented care.
Not solely do many sufferers see a number of docs, every of whom could prescribe their very own set of medicines, however sufferers could stress docs to prescribe medicine they’ve seen on direct-to-consumer commercials. As an alternative of trying on the huge image of find out how to get wholesome, tending to important components like weight loss plan, stress and bodily exercise, “well being care” for seniors usually turns into “drug care,” with probably disastrous outcomes.
One Affected person — 43 Prescription Medicine
A commentary by Dr. Mark E. Williams printed on Medscape highlights simply how excessive polypharmacy can grow to be. In some circumstances, it’s not “simply” 4 or 5 medicines however dozens of them, and within the case of Williams’ affected person “Allison,” it was 43. The girl had been transferred to a continual care facility for long-term care attributable to bipolar sickness.
Days earlier, she was handled at a hospital for psychological well being points, which Williams mentioned “was most likely associated to inappropriate polypharmacy.”3
“Regardless of being admitted to the hospital for adversarial drug reactions associated to polypharmacy, Allison was discharged to my facility on 43 prescription medicines and an virtually equal variety of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. It took greater than 10 minutes for the nurse to assessment the admission medicines with me over the cellphone,” he wrote.4
Allison’s signs included fatigue, dizziness, muscle aches, headache, nausea, insomnia and extra, and she or he requested further medicines to deal with them. Not solely was the girl taking duplicate medicines meant to deal with the identical signs, however she was additionally taking medicines supposed to deal with widespread adversarial results.
“The ‘chemical soup’ in her physique is resulting in psychological and bodily issues,” Williams instructed the affected person’s daughter, however she, too, purchased into the notion that extra medicine equaled higher care. After overcoming the affected person’s resistance to going off the medicine, over a three-month interval Williams was in a position to scale back Allison’s medicines to about 15 — nonetheless a staggering quantity, however much less so than 43.
“Allison improved, each mentally and bodily,” Williams wrote,5 however challenges nonetheless ensued, together with the affected person demanding a reminiscence drug she had seen marketed on tv, and an incident during which her daughter gave her an over-the-counter sleep support, resulting in lethargy, confusion and slurred speech.
In the end, Allison was transferred to a different facility, the place the harmful polypharmacy undoubtedly continued. Whereas Williams’ commentary highlights an excessive case, it’s not distinctive — polypharmacy is prevalent amongst seniors.
Polypharmacy Worsens Well being
When medicines are prescribed in extra, together with to deal with the unwanted effects of different medicine, the affected person’s well being suffers. “Using quite a few medicines could end in medication-related issues reminiscent of inappropriate indications, therapeutic duplication, adversarial results, drug interactions, pointless medicines, poor adherence and a pressure on well being care sources,” in keeping with a featured article in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners.6
It additionally famous that polypharmacy is a preventable danger issue for hospital admission in older adults, attributable to adversarial drug occasions. The dangers of polypharmacy, in the meantime, are effectively famous. In BMC Geriatrics, adversarial outcomes together with mortality, falls, adversarial drug reactions, elevated size of hospital keep and hospital readmission are listed, and the chance of hurt will increase with the variety of medicines.7 In accordance with the systematic assessment:8
“Hurt may end up attributable to a large number of things together with drug-drug interactions and drug-disease interactions. Older sufferers are at even higher danger of adversarial results attributable to decreased renal and hepatic operate, decrease lean physique mass, lowered listening to, imaginative and prescient, cognition and mobility.”
In 2007, Dr. Michael Stern, geriatric emergency medication specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital, even instructed a New York Instances reporter that polypharmacy accounts for greater than one-fourth of all admissions to the hospital and that it will be thought-about the fifth main reason for demise if it have been categorized that means.9
Older Folks Are Extra Susceptible to Drug Aspect Results
The truth that older individuals are extra prone to be taking extra prescribed drugs is a double-edged sword, because the aged are already at elevated danger of drug unwanted effects. In truth, the aged are estimated to be twice as prone to adversarial drug occasions in comparison with youthful folks.
“Unwanted side effects are additionally prone to be extra extreme, affecting high quality of life and leading to visits to the physician and in hospitalization,” in keeping with the Merck Guide, which additionally explains a number of explanation why older individuals are so weak to drug unwanted effects:10
- Older folks have much less water and extra fats tissue within the physique; this enables greater concentrations of medication that dissolve in water and elevated accumulation of medication that dissolve in fats
- The kidneys are much less efficient at excreting medicine into urine
- The liver is much less in a position to metabolize medicine, so that they’re not eliminated as readily from the physique
- “Older individuals are extra prone to have continual medical problems which may be worsened by medicine or which will have an effect on how the medicine work”
Some widespread examples of how medicine could have an effect on seniors in a different way embody blood stress medicine, which can result in extra dramatic drops in older folks, resulting in signs of dizziness and falls. Older adults may additionally grow to be confused and sleepy when utilizing antianxiety medicine, extra so than sometimes seen in youthful folks. Such results could solely be compounded when a number of medicine are being taken on the similar time.
In truth, attributable to modifications that happen throughout organic growing older, it’s now acknowledged that medicines must be clinically examined particularly with older adults in thoughts. Nonetheless, older adults are sometimes excluded from medical trials, which suggests the security and efficacy of medication on this inhabitants is usually unknown, with supportive proof missing.
“Inevitably, this lack of proof has usually led to inappropriate drug therapy and, consequently, to varied adversarial medical outcomes,” in keeping with a assessment printed in March 2021 in European Geriatric Drugs.11
Why Are so Many Extra Seniors Taking Antidepressants?
Overprescribing is rampant among the many senior inhabitants, and antidepressants are one such instance. There’s been a serious rise within the variety of antidepressants being prescribed for older adults during the last 20 years, with no equally sharp enhance within the quantity depressed, in keeping with a examine printed in The British Journal of Psychiatry.12
The findings recommend seniors could also be being overprescribed antidepressant medicine, which might have critical implications for his or her well being, though the researchers weren’t keen to state this, noting as an alternative, “we will not infer that older sufferers are prescribed antidepressants unnecessarily.”13
Within the first examine group, 4.2% of the adults have been taking antidepressants, however this jumped to 10.7% within the later examine. Throughout this time, the prevalence of despair decreased, however solely barely, from 7.9% to six.8%.14 Additionally noteworthy, amongst older adults residing in care houses, the prevalence of despair was unchanged however the usage of antidepressants rose from 7.4% to 29.2%.15
There have been just a few solutions provided for why antidepressant prescribing charges elevated so steeply with no related enhance in despair, together with overdiagnosis or prescribing the medicine for circumstances aside from despair. Nonetheless, most of these prescribed antidepressants had not been identified with despair.
Additional, antidepressants carry a danger of unwanted effects that would simply spiral into extra drug prescriptions. For example, antidepressant customers have an elevated danger of growing Sort 2 diabetes,16 and antidepressant use has been linked to thicker arteries, which might contribute to the chance of coronary heart illness and stroke.17
Almost Half of Over 75s Take Statins
Statin cholesterol-lowering medicine are one other instance of a wildly overprescribed drug class that’s contributing to polypharmacy dangers. Within the U.S., near 50% of U.S. adults over 75 years take a statin,18 although their use may additionally hurt mind well being — greater than doubling danger of dementia in some circumstances.19
A connection additionally exists between statins and diabetes, to the extent that individuals who take statins are greater than twice as prone to be identified with diabetes than those that don’t, and people who take the medicine for longer than two years have greater than triple the chance.20,21 With a diabetes prognosis, in fact, comes extra medicine.
Usually, statins are pointless within the first place. Whereas they’re efficient at reducing ldl cholesterol, whether or not that is the panacea for serving to keep away from coronary heart illness and prolong lifespan is a subject of heated debate. In 2018, a scientific assessment introduced substantial proof that top LDL and complete ldl cholesterol aren’t a sign of coronary heart illness danger, and that statin therapy is of uncertain profit as a type of major prevention for that reason.22
Medicine Don’t Equate to Good Well being
Overprescribing capsules is organising seniors for a downward spiral of accelerating unwanted effects and worsening well being. A holistic method is required, one which addresses the important thing tenets of fine well being and creates actual wellness as an alternative of trying to cowl up signs with extra capsules.
As only one instance, in a examine of older depressed adults, 80% skilled a big discount in depressive signs after taking on power coaching for 10 weeks, such that researchers concluded that the train was “an efficient antidepressant in depressed elders, whereas additionally enhancing power, morale and high quality of life.”23
It’s vital to work with a well being care supplier who understands the dangers of polypharmacy and the truth that good well being doesn’t come from a tablet. Solely by constructing a well being plan that addresses weight loss plan, train, sleep, emotional wellness and poisonous exposures, together with solely focused and really needed medicines and/or dietary supplements, are you able to attain optimum well being.