More than three-quarters of adults 60 and older use two or more prescription drugs to treat several chronic conditions. But when it comes to your health, more does not necessarily mean better.
A new study from Oregon State University and Yale University School of Medicine looked at several medications commonly prescribed to older adults. The conclusion: "Medications that are used for one condition could adversely affect another condition," says David Lee, an assistant professor at Oregon State University's College of Pharmacy and one of the study's researchers.
While the findings of unintended interactions between drugs was not surprising, the prevalence of the problem was. More than 22 percent of study participants had been prescribed at least one medication that could worsen a separate condition. One example: Many older adults are treated for both osteoarthritis and high blood pressure, but some commonly prescribed arthritis drugs could make hypertension medications less effective, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Because seniors often see several physicians, each doctor may not know every medication the patient is taking. Lee, who is also a pharmacist, says patients should be advocates for their own health. "Anytime you're given a new medication, you want to be sure that you understand what the side effects are," Lee says. "Don't assume that they're automatically safe, just because someone prescribed it for you."
For a list of questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist about your medications, download the National Institute on Aging's "Medicines: Use Them Safely" at bit.ly/nia-medicines.
"One thing you want to watch out for is using too many medications," Lee says. "You want to try to minimize the number of medications to only those that are really necessary."
Medicare Part D beneficiaries may qualify for the Medication Therapy Management program, a free service in which a health professional does a comprehensive review of your prescription drugs. Because the programs are run by each individual Medicare Part D company, each may be slightly different, but typically you must have three or more chronic health problems and take eight or more daily medicines. For general information, go to bit.ly/mtm-medicare. For specific requirements, check with your Part D insurance company.
Even if you are not eligible for the program, you can make an appointment with your pharmacist to discuss your medications, their interactions and whether you can eliminate or reduce dosages of some drugs. If you're worried that your pharmacist will be annoyed at your request, don't be, Lee says. "We love that."