All too often, when an older person visits a doctor with any kind of health concern, they walk away with nothing more than a prescription for a toxic, ineffective drug. And as the coronavirus panic continues to cause disruptions to routine healthcare, the problem of overmedication among seniors has only grown much worse. (Remember the story about the nurse practitioner who basically admitted that she could only manage to write and refill drug prescriptions during the coronavirus shutdowns?)
Thankfully, a group of U.S. researchers finally decided to look deeper into the problem…
“Inappropriate” drug prescriptions continue to be doled out
For this new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers analyzed data from a survey conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And according to the researchers’ analysis, one in three adults were prescribed at least one “inappropriate” drug.
The drugs most often inappropriately prescribed included:
- Antihistamines, like diphenhydramine
- Antipsychotics, like haloperidol, olanzapine, or risperidone
- Benzodiazepines, like diazepam (a type of sedative)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs (a type of medication to reduce stomach acid)
- Long-acting sulfonylureas, like glyburide (a type of blood sugar medication)
Overall, this group of older Americans were prescribed twice as many drugs as they needed. They were also nearly twice as likely to go to the emergency room or to be hospitalized. And they paid an average of nearly $500 each in wasted healthcare costs each year!
All of which is tragic, but not terribly surprising. Especially when you consider what we already know about how the U.S. healthcare system treats older adults…
We know drugs affect older adults in more serious ways
The way I see it, there are three main reasons why prescription drugs are so dangerous for older adults.
First, when a doctor writes a prescription for an older adult, all too often the dose is just far too high. Or, maybe it’s an appropriate dosage to start out, but the doctor fails to adjust it over time to account for factors like age, metabolism, hepatic and kidney functions, fluctuating body weight, or changes to the patient’s daily routine (like engaging in more consistent exercise). This is especially true of blood pressure and blood sugar drugs.
Second, there’s the major problem of polypharmacy (taking more than one drug at once) among older people. It can lead to dizziness, falls, fractures, cognitive impairment, and blood sugar and blood pressure problems. It can even shave years off your life!
Third, as people age, we know they react differently and more adversely to medications. And clearly, they aren’t being properly screened over the years.
Unfortunately, as I first reported years ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require drug makers to test common drugs on older people…the people who actually use the drugs!
In fact, drug makers often purposely exclude older patients from their clinical trials…to improve their results. So, the patients most vulnerable to the dangerous side effects only start taking the drugs after they’ve been FDA approved! Which is why we often discover huge safety problems with drugs only AFTER the FDA approves the drug.
Now, don’t get me wrong…
There are a lot of very good, well-intentioned doctors and nurses in this country. And they feel deeply compelled to offer some kind of help to their patients.
But, as the researchers in this study mentioned, most doctors aren’t well-informed about alternative, non-drug options for assisting older adults in their care. So, if all you have is a prescription pad, then all you can give out is a piece of paper with a prescription on it.
Be your own best advocate
Fortunately, since you’re reading this Dispatch (and if you’re a subscriber to my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter), you’ve already taken steps to educate yourself about alternative and complementary approaches to health and healing. But your doctor may need some continuing education!
So, as my friend Dr. Ron Hoffman first suggested years ago, on his popular radio show on WOR in New York, perhaps you should consider getting a copy of my textbook Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine for your physician. It’s been continuously in print since 1995 and is now in its 6th edition. And it contains nearly 800 pages with thousands of scientific references documenting the use, safety, and effectiveness of so-called “alternative therapies.”
Then, when your doctor tries to tell you that there’s no scientific evidence for “alternative treatments,” you can refer him or her to the actual science.
You can also discover which alternative treatment will work best for you by taking this short quiz.
In the end, remember that taking a prescription drug isn’t always the perfect solution you hope it will be. In fact, more often than not, it causes more problems than it solves.
For all the details on how to avoid potentially “inappropriate” drugs (and their side effects) and support a long, healthy, drug-free life, check out my Insiders’ Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age”.
“Potentially Inappropriate Medications Are Associated with Increased Healthcare Utilization and Costs.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, November 2020. 68(11) 2542-2550. doi.org/10.1111/jgs.16743
“1 in 3 Americans Prescribed Inappropriate Drugs.” U.S. News & World Report, 10/29/20. (usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2020-10-29/1-in-3-americans-prescribed-inappropriate-drugs)