Medication And Older Patients

Closeup portrait of a smiling senior woman

Any medication will have special warnings about kids—a lower dose, or even an admonition not to give it to children at all. That’s because medications that are needed by adults might be dangerous for children. But not a lot of people know that the same applies in the other direction as well—some common prescription medications that are useful for many people can be harmful for senior citizens. The effects of aging on the body can increase the risk and severity of side effects. In particular, liver function diminishes with age, even without any particular medical condition effecting the liver, meaning that its ability to remove the active ingredients of medication from the blood in a timely fashion is reduced.

In addition, older patients often have more and more complex conditions, which require a greater variety of medications to treat. This means, however, that there is more scope for drug interactions, especially when the drugs stay in the body longer. That’s why more than a third of adults over 65 have some sort of adverse reaction to medication each year. These reactions can include unusual drowsiness, confusion, lowered blood pressure, a dangerously slow heart rate, or greater proneness to falls.

There are things you can do to prevent this. Keep a list with you of all medications, vitamins, and herbal supplements you are taking, including how much, how often, and when. Make sure this list is up to date, and share it with all your health care providers and pharmacists whenever you go for an appointment or add a new prescription. In fact, you should regularly review your medications with your doctor to make sure you still need everything you’re taking, and they play well together. If you think you notice a new side effect or interaction, or if you notice anything unusual after starting a new medication, tell your doctor right away.

In addition, you shouldn’t go from drugstore to drugstore; if you get everything in one place, the pharmacist can spot and warn you about possible interaction dangers. If they do warn you about an interaction, ask your doctor about it specifically before taking the medication. Don’t add anything new to your regimen without being sure you understand what it’s for, what effects you will experience, how long you’ll need it, and what you need to avoid with it.

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