Aging Options

Washington Post: Seniors are Victims of “America’s Other Drug Problem”

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Unnecessary, unsuitable, even deadly – just some of the terms used to describe prescription drugs being given to elderly patients in the nation’s hospitals. Yet the practice of over-prescribing drugs to seniors continues, sometimes with deadly results.

This is the conclusion in a recent article we discovered on the website of the authoritative Washington Post. You can click here to read this important article. In fact, you should, whether you’re a senior facing medical treatment or are caring for someone in that situation. The article paints a picture of doctors failing to communicate with one another, and of a system of prescribing drugs that in some cases counteract one another and in other cases cause dangerous side effects when combined. The federal Department of Health and Human Services reports that in 2014 more than half of all hospital visits by senior patients resulted in some level of drug-related complications, most of which (the article concludes) could have been prevented.

Some hospitals are finally attacking the problem of giving the wrong drugs, or too many of them, to seniors. The Post article spotlights the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles which added a pharmacist to the staff three years ago specifically to work in the geriatric unit. His job is to improve care and reduce readmissions by closely examining and monitoring prescription drugs being given to senior patients. This pharmacist had already discovered that “a doctor had prescribed blood pressure medication for a 99-year-old woman at a dose that could cause her to faint or fall. An 84-year-old woman hospitalized for knee surgery was taking several drugs that were not meant for older patients because of their severe potential side effects.” He even found a 74 year old patient whose records showed she was on 36 different medications!

The director of UCLA’s inpatient geriatric unit called this “America’s other drug problem – polypharmacy” (the practice of over-prescribing drugs). She added, “The problem is huge.”

The Washington Post article reports that accurate data on just how many drug-related incidents affect seniors, and how much it costs in unnecessary or preventable charges, is hard to come by, but one article pegs the cost at a minimum of $3.5 billion annually. In spite of the high price tag and the danger to senior patients, the practice of over-prescribing continues. A study of VA hospitals cited by the Washington Post article reveals that “44 percent of frail elderly patients were given at least one unnecessary drug at discharge.” Add to this the fact that some patients are already suffering cognitive impairment and the chances for serious problems skyrocket.

The Post article is short on solutions, but here at AgingOptions, based on our years of experience dealing with retirees with a variety of medical conditions, we have two suggestions. First, caregivers who think their loved one may have too many prescriptions need to step in and ask some penetrating questions. (We know of one woman who came to an oncology appointment with her mother-in-law and laid out the 9 different bottles of the pills the older lady was taking, many of which had extremely debilitating side effects. “This is ridiculous!” the woman asserted. The doctor considered the situation and promptly cancelled three of the prescriptions.)

The second recommendation will sound familiar to readers of our blog and listeners to our radio program. If you’re a senior you need a geriatrician to be the quarterback on your medical team – a physician who specializes in the unique health care needs of older patients. A geriatrician can help you stay healthier longer, and he or she will carefully monitor any prescriptions you may receive, helping you guard against the potentially deadly danger of medications with problematic side effects. This is one area with there’s no substitute for good, objective professional advice.

If you’re approaching retirement, you need that same kind of solid advice from a trustworthy source. The professional team at AgingOptions stands ready to serve you. We will help you create a comprehensive plan, called a LifePlan, that will become your blueprint for a safe and secure retirement. A LifePlan includes all aspects of your retirement: your medical coverage, your legal protection, your housing choices, your financial security and your family communications. With a LifePlan in place you’ll be able to protect your assets in retirement and never have to fear becoming a burden to your loved ones. Imagine the peace of mind that would bring! Getting started with the LifePlanning process is easy. Sign up to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. This fast-paced seminar will provide you with priceless information, all without obligation. Click on the Upcoming Events tab and register online for the seminar of your choice, or call our office during working hours. We’ll look forward to meeting you and working with you.

(originally reported at

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