For decades, experts have warned that older Americans are taking too many unnecessary drugs, often prescribed by multiple doctors, for dubious or unknown reasons, but the issue still attracts little attention (Source: “An Overlooked Epidemic: Older Americans Taking Too Many Unneeded Drugs,” Kaiser Health News, Dec. 12, 2017).
Researchers estimate that 25 percent of people ages 65 to 69 take at least five prescription drugs to treat chronic conditions, a figure that jumps to nearly 46 percent for those between 70 and 79.
Doctors say it is not uncommon to encounter patients taking more than 20 drugs to treat acid reflux, heart disease, depression or insomnia or other disorders.
At least 15 percent of seniors seeking care annually from doctors or hospitals have suffered a medication problem; in half of these cases, the problem is believed to be potentially preventable. Studies have linked polypharmacy to unnecessary death. Older patients, who have greater difficulty metabolizing medicines, are more likely to suffer dizziness, confusion and falls. And the side effects of drugs are frequently misinterpreted as a new problem, triggering more prescriptions, a process known as a prescribing cascade.