Seniors take a lot of drugs. People 65 years and older represent approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet account for one-third of all medications prescribed. Many elders with chronic health conditions take an average of five to 10 medications every day.
There’s no question that medications help keep seniors healthy. However, according to several recent medical reports, there is an epidemic of drug misuse among elders that threatens their well-being. Drug misuse can cause mental and physical impairments, putting seniors at risk of falling.
Misuse is defined as non-adherence to drug prescription directions, which can be either intentional or accidental. The most frequently prescribed medications that are misused include:
- Medications for anxiety and depression
- Pain relievers
- Sedatives for sleep disorders
Examples of drug misuse are:
- Taking too much medicine. Some elders forget they already took their drugs (known as “double-dosing” themselves).
- Self-medicating. Sometimes seniors take older prescriptions or another person’s medicine because it’s easier than going to the doctor or they cannot afford the medication.
- Taking more of a medication than is prescribed to “feel better.” This happens most with medicines used to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety or chronic pain and can lead easily to overdose.
- Taking multiple prescription medicines while drinking alcohol. This is dangerous because of drug/alcohol interactions. Generally, seniors need less alcohol to become intoxicated because their metabolism slows down.
But drug misuse is often overlooked. One reason for this is that signs of drug misuse may be attributed to other age-related health problems, such as depression or dementia. Common symptoms (that also increase the likelihood of falling), include:
- Memory loss
- Lack of balance
- Mood swings
What to Look for
Detecting drug misuse in elders is difficult because family members are reluctant to ask about it. Family caregivers may be aware of a “problem,” but don’t want to confront their loved one about it.
If a senior exhibits any of the following signs, then it’s time to talk to the family doctor about possible drug misuse:
- Memory troubles (especially after taking medication)
- Loss of coordination (unsteady walking/balance, frequent falls)
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Unexplained bruises
- Irritability, sadness, depression
- Unexplained chronic pain
Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D., PA-C (or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to) is the president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, N.J., a consulting company that provides educational, legal and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist (health care professional who specializes in working with elderly patients) and a geriatric physician's assistant. Check out Dr. Rein’s professional profile on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dr-rein/6/759/592. If you have any questions about preventing falls, please feel free to email Dr. Rein at firstname.lastname@example.org.