Polypharmacy, or the usage of a number of drugs, is widespread in older adults. Whereas 89% of individuals aged 65 and older take a minimum of one prescription remedy, 54% take 4 or extra.1 Knowledge from Merck equally discovered that almost 80% of older adults commonly take a minimum of two prescribed drugs whereas 36% commonly use 5 or extra completely different medicine — and this doesn’t embody over-the-counter drugs.2
Antagonistic results from polypharmacy are widespread and should drive sufferers to hunt out ever-more medicine to deal with the negative 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 might prescribe their very own set of medicines, however sufferers might stress docs to prescribe medicine they’ve seen on direct-to-consumer ads. As an alternative of trying on the huge image of easy methods to get wholesome, tending to important elements like food regimen, 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 turn out to be. In some circumstances, it’s not “simply” 4 or 5 drugs however dozens of them, and within the case of Williams’ affected person “Allison,” it was 43. The lady had been transferred to a continual care facility for long-term care because of 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 opposed drug reactions associated to polypharmacy, Allison was discharged to my facility on 43 prescription drugs and an nearly equal variety of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. It took greater than 10 minutes for the nurse to evaluation the admission drugs 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 drugs to deal with them. Not solely was the girl taking duplicate drugs meant to deal with the identical signs, however she was additionally taking drugs supposed to deal with widespread opposed results.
“The ‘chemical soup’ in her physique is resulting in psychological and bodily issues,” Williams advised 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 capable of cut back Allison’s drugs 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 by which her daughter gave her an over-the-counter sleep help, resulting in lethargy, confusion and slurred speech.
Finally, 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 drugs are prescribed in extra, together with to deal with the negative effects of different medicine, the affected person’s well being suffers. “Using quite a few drugs might end in medication-related issues reminiscent of inappropriate indications, therapeutic duplication, opposed results, drug interactions, pointless drugs, 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, because of opposed drug occasions. The dangers of polypharmacy, in the meantime, are nicely famous. In BMC Geriatrics, opposed outcomes together with mortality, falls, opposed drug reactions, elevated size of hospital keep and hospital readmission are listed, and the danger of hurt will increase with the variety of drugs.7 In line with the systematic evaluation:8
“Hurt may end up because of a large number of things together with drug-drug interactions and drug-disease interactions. Older sufferers are at even better danger of opposed results because of 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 drugs specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital, even advised a New York Occasions reporter that polypharmacy accounts for greater than one-fourth of all admissions to the hospital and that it might be thought of the fifth main explanation for loss of life if it have been categorized that approach.9
Older Individuals Are Extra Weak to Drug Aspect Results
The truth that older individuals are extra more likely to be taking extra prescribed drugs is a double-edged sword, because the aged are already at elevated danger of drug negative effects. In truth, the aged are estimated to be twice as inclined to opposed drug occasions in comparison with youthful individuals.
“Unwanted side effects are additionally more likely to be extra extreme, affecting high quality of life and leading to visits to the physician and in hospitalization,” in keeping with the Merck Handbook, which additionally explains a number of the reason why older individuals are so weak to drug negative effects:10
- Older individuals have much less water and extra fats tissue within the physique; this permits larger 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 capable of metabolize medicine, in order that they’re not eliminated as readily from the physique
- “Older individuals are extra more likely to have continual medical problems that could be worsened by medicine or that will have an effect on how the medicine work”
Some widespread examples of how medicine might have an effect on seniors in a different way embody blood stress medicine, which can result in extra dramatic drops in older individuals, resulting in signs of dizziness and falls. Older adults may additionally turn out to be confused and sleepy when utilizing antianxiety medicine, extra so than sometimes seen in youthful individuals. Such results might solely be compounded when a number of medicine are being taken on the identical time.
In truth, because of adjustments that happen throughout organic ageing, it’s now acknowledged that drugs needs to be clinically examined particularly with older adults in thoughts. Nonetheless, older adults are sometimes excluded from scientific trials, which suggests the protection 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 remedy and, consequently, to numerous opposed scientific outcomes,” in keeping with a evaluation 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 significant rise within the variety of antidepressants being prescribed for older adults during the last twenty years, with out a equally sharp improve 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 may have severe implications for his or her well being, though the researchers weren’t prepared to state this, noting as a substitute, “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 melancholy decreased, however solely barely, from 7.9% to six.8%.14 Additionally noteworthy, amongst older adults residing in care houses, the prevalence of melancholy was unchanged however the usage of antidepressants rose from 7.4% to 29.2%.15
There have been just a few solutions supplied for why antidepressant prescribing charges elevated so steeply with out a comparable improve in melancholy, together with overdiagnosis or prescribing the medicine for circumstances aside from melancholy. Nonetheless, most of these prescribed antidepressants had not been recognized with melancholy.
Additional, antidepressants carry a danger of negative effects that would simply spiral into extra drug prescriptions. As an example, antidepressant customers have an elevated danger of growing Sort 2 diabetes,16 and antidepressant use has been linked to thicker arteries, which may contribute to the danger 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 more likely to be recognized with diabetes than those that don’t, and those that take the medicine for longer than two years have greater than triple the danger.20,21 With a diabetes analysis, in fact, comes extra medicine.
Usually, statins are pointless within the first place. Whereas they’re efficient at decreasing ldl cholesterol, whether or not that is the panacea for serving to keep away from coronary heart illness and lengthen lifespan is a subject of heated debate. In 2018, a scientific evaluation introduced substantial proof that prime LDL and complete ldl cholesterol aren’t a sign of coronary heart illness danger, and that statin remedy is of uncertain profit as a type of major prevention because of this.22
Medicine Don’t Equate to Good Well being
Overprescribing capsules is establishing seniors for a downward spiral of accelerating negative effects and worsening well being. A holistic strategy is required, one which addresses the important thing tenets of excellent well being and creates actual wellness as a substitute 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 over power coaching for 10 weeks, such that researchers concluded that the train was “an efficient antidepressant in depressed elders, whereas additionally bettering power, morale and high quality of life.”23
It’s essential 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 capsule. Solely by constructing a well being plan that addresses food regimen, train, sleep, emotional wellness and poisonous exposures, together with solely focused and really needed drugs and/or dietary supplements, are you able to attain optimum well being.