With the current opioid epidemic, millions of people are struggling with pain management and prescription drug abuse. The numbers are staggering; the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that approximately 54 million people have used prescription medications for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lifetime. A 2014 survey estimated that 2.1 million Americans have used prescription medication for nonmedical reasons within the past year, which equals to about 5,750 initiates per day. While prescription drug use is common among youth and young adults, older adults are at increased risk as well.
More health complications occur as one gets older, such as osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, vision loss, hearing loss, memory loss, incontinence, constipation, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, sickness, and more. Along with health complications comes the problem of medication; many doctors are prescribing several different medications to older adults to help them manage a variety of unpleasant symptoms, but many are skeptical.
A recent survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons found that over 50% of the older adults surveyed take four or more prescription drugs per day. The Washington Post states that many medications have side effects that aren’t easily handled by older patients, with many side effects causing them to experience confusion, falling, excessive bleeding, low blood pressure, and respiratory problems.
Some medications are prescribed to help treat issues such as blood clots and nausea, yet others are prescribed to simply help counteract the side effects of the original prescription medications. When older adults are prescribed several different medications, they often return home unsure of what to take and what the proper dose is – it can become very confusing. As one patient stated during an interview with pharmacist Dominick Bailey at the UCLA Medical Center as posted by the Washington Post,
“I’m very confused about it, to tell you the truth. It’s complicated. And if the pills are not right, you are in trouble.”
Many others feel the same way. Several doctors are aware that older adults experience more complications with prescription drugs – complications that may not occur in younger adults. The worsening of symptoms and longevity of medication in the body presents a call to action for our medical community – to become more aware of the serious risks that are posed when our elderly is prescribed too many medications. We must remain actively aware of what we are taking and have an open, honest, respectful conversation with our healthcare providers so that everyone is on the same page.
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