Study: Elderly patients often prescribed risky drugs

home care omahaA new study found that doctors in the United States routinely prescribe potentially harmful drugs to elderly patients. The study, by the National Center for Biotechnology, also shows that this practice is more problematic in the southern United States particularly.

Researchers looked at the data of more than 6 million older adults who were enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans. Among these seniors, roughly one in five (1.3 million) had been prescribed at least one high-risk medication in 2009, even though safer substitutions were available. Around 5 percent of the elderly in the study were prescribed two or more risky medications.

Elderly Americans in the southern U.S. — from Texas to South Carolina — were roughly 12 percent more likely to be prescribed a high-risk medication than older adults living in othe regions. The reasons behind this are unclear but researchers suspect factors like education, socioeconomic status and access to quality medical care could be factors. For example, as socioeconomic status shrank the likelihood a patient was prescribed high-risk medication grew.

Among the harmful drugs include anti-anxiety medications like Valium, a benzodiazepine that is difficult for elderly patients to metabolize and in turn can lead to prolonged sedation and potentially devastating falls. Also on the list: many muscle relaxants and diabetes medications.

“We started this study because we know that these medications are likely to have more harms than benefits in older patients, Dr. Amal Trivedi, an author of the study, told the New York Times.

It’s also worth mentioning that many older adults are likely to take multiple medications at once, resulting in a heightened risk of dangerous interactions.

The Times article also noted that there are several lists of drugs that are harmful to elderly patients readily available on the internet and that patients should take ownership of their medications and regularly review them with pharmacists and physicians.

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