Medications Are 'Inappropriately' Prescribed To 1 In 5 Seniors: Study

an older man gets ready to take a pill
an older man gets ready to take a pill

One in five medications used by people older than 65 are prescribed inappropriately in primary care settings, which can cause adverse reactions,
according to a new study published by the journal, PLOS ONE. Researchers defined "inappropriate" as prescriptions that are totally wrong, or prescribed at a dosage that is too high or too low.

The study examined 946 studies dealing with medication and prescription use in settings such as outpatient clinics, general and office practices and primary health care clinics. These papers were whittled down to 19 from the United States and various EU countries for analysis. The average rate of inappropriate prescriptions among people older than 65 was 20.5 percent.

Which meds were the most “inappropriately prescribed”? Pain reliever propoxyphene, with an average of 4.52 percent (though it is no longer available in the United States); the antihypertensive doxazosin, with an average of 3.96 percent; diphenhydramine, which is anantihistamine, has an average of 3.3 percent; and the antidepressant amitriptiline, has an average of 3.2 percent.

Roughly one-third older outpatients develop negative reactions to medication, which researchers say could be avoided if alternative, low-risk medications had been prescribed instead. The body also has a more difficult time processing medications as we age: lower kidney and liver functioning makes it harder for the organs to break down drugs and remove them from our body, “leaving it more vulnerable to toxic accumulations of … medications,” according to the new book “Are Your Prescriptions Killing You?” by Armon B. Neel Jr., Ph.D.

The study suggests developing a computerized support system to help physicians better prescribe medication. It's a good thought considering that America's love affair with meds only stands to grow: Prescription purchases jumped by 39 percent between 1999 and 2009, even though the population only increased by 9 percent during that time period, according to KaiserEDU.

Correction: An earlier version of this post characterized diphenhydramine as a drug used for stomach ailments. It is actually an antihistamine.



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