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Thursday, June 7, 2007

The pharmacist-daughter’s mantra: Drug side effects in the elderly

Phylliss Hunt Moret’s story:

Being my parents’ primary caregiver had never crossed my mind until a critical event six years ago when my dad fell and broke his hip a week prior to my mom’s shoulder surgery. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease evolved to heart attacks, strokes, an amputation, cognitive decline, and 12+ daily medications each.

Our country "gets it" that babies and toddlers can’t take the same drugs as adults. But seniors have their own unique medication-related challenges. As a pharmacist committed to seniors’ care, I know the mantra by heart: All symptoms in a senior should be considered a drug side-effect until proven otherwise.

A common scenario: A senior gets a new prescription to treat something, say depression. Then a new symptom presents itself: confusion. The senior gets another prescription to treat the confusion, when all along the confusion was a side effect of the medicine used to treat the depression.

Why does this happen? Because seniors are at greater risk for medication-related problems due to multiple illnesses, multiple physicians, multiple medications, and multiple pharmacies.

Because studies repeatedly show that one in five seniors takes at least one medication considered potentially inappropriate, when instead there are alternatives with less risky side effects for seniors.

And because medication-related problems all too often look like common geriatric problems an d syndromes, e.g., confusion, depression, insomnia, tremors, incontinence, weakness, loss of appetite, fainting, loss of balance, falls, and more.

Because there is a scarcity of expertise among health care professionals about geriatric pharmacotherapy and the unique medication-related needs of seniors. Which means that too few health professionals know the mantra….

Advice to people with elderly parents or spouses: Remember Phyliss’ mantra: All symptoms in a senior should be considered a drug side effect until proven otherwise.

Read another of our drug-drug interaction stories, or learn more about medications that are potentially inappropriate for your parents.

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