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Over 65? Watch Out for These Medications

Debra Gordon

Last updated: November 22, 2016 3:18 pm

Did you know that half of those 65 and older use five or more prescription and over-the-counter medications per week, and that 12 percent use 10 or more? Or that even though people 65 and older represent about 12 percent of the population, they receive more than 25 percent of all prescribed drugs in the United States? 1

Most important, did you know that medication errors are among the most common medical mistakes in our system, harming at least 1.5 million people every year, with hospitalized patients subject to at least one medication error a day? 2 In fact, about one out of every three older people overall  experience a serious adverse effect related to medications, including a bone-breaking fall, disorientation, inability to urinate, even heart failure. Plus, about a third of hospital admissions in this age group are related to prescribed medications. 3

The most common cause of these events? Inappropriate medication prescribing.

That’s why it’s so important that you take control of your medications, questioning your doctor about every prescription you’re given, watching for side effects, and insisting on changes or other treatment options if the medication isn’t safe or effective.

You can learn if your medication is appropriate for someone your age by checking out the Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults. There, you’ll find a list of 34 medications and drug classes for 14 health problems you probably shouldn’t take if you’re 65 or older.

They include certain antihistamines, anti-Parkinson drugs, antispasmodics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen),  antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, and muscle relaxers.

You can print out a pocket card to carry in your wallet here. You can even download an app for your iPhone or Android device.

These “potentially inappropriate” drugs may have more side effects or a higher risk of side effects in older people, or may not work as well. In most instances, safer, more effective options are available. As the Beers list notes: “Clinicians should consider avoiding these drugs.”

The sad fact is that most doctors are either not aware of the Beers list or don’t check it before scribbling a prescription . So it’s up to you to be an educated consumer. Next time your doctor prescribes a medication , whip out your list. If the drug is on the list, ask about other options.

Other questions to ask about medications:

  • Why are you prescribing this?
  • How does it work?
  • When will I begin to feel the effects?
  • How will I know it’s working?
  • What side effects should I watch for?
  • Which side effects are serious enough to call you? When would I call 911?
  • How long will I have to take this medicine?
  • How do I take this medicine?
  • What if I miss a dose?
  • Will this drug interact with any other medications, herbs, or supplements I’m taking? (Make sure you tell your doctor about anything you take—even vitamins!)
  • Is this medication covered by my insurance? Do you know what my copayment will be?

If you have problems paying for the drug ask:

  • Are there any generic options?
  • Is there a less expensive drug I can take that has the same benefits?
  • Do you have any samples?

Remember: Never stop taking a medication without talking to your doctor. It’s also a good idea to keep a list of drugs you’re taking and their dosages in your wallet or on your phone. That way, no matter what happens, you’ll be able to share that information with healthcare providers.

  1. Roehl B, Talati A, Parks S. Medication Prescribing for Older Adults. Ann Long-Term Care.2006;14(6):33-39. 

  2. Institute of Medicine. Preventing Medication Errors: Quality Chasm 

  3. Series. Eds: Committee on Identifying and Preventing Medication Errors. Washington, DC: National Academies Press;2007.