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Avoiding Adverse Drug Reactions in the Senior Population

As people age, it’s simply a fact of life that they may need more prescription or over-the-counter medications to stay healthy. However, people over the age of 65 are more likely to have adverse drug reactions and need to be more cautious about taking certain types of drugs. There are even some drugs that older adults may need to avoid altogether – even a few that many of us take for granted as a part of day-to-day life.

From 2015 to 2021, according to Statistics Canada, the number of seniors is projected to exceed the number of children aged 14 and younger for the first time ever. By 2036, the number of seniors could reach between 9.9 and 10.9 million people. Statistics Canada notes that older adults, meaning those 65 and over, are twice as likely as others to come to emergency departments for adverse drug reactions, and nearly seven times more likely to be hospitalized after an emergency visit. This means adverse drug reactions will likely become more and more common as the population ages.

Why do adverse drug reactions happen?

Many adverse drug reactions are caused by improper dosing. Certain drugs require blood testing to make sure the patient is receiving the optimum dose. These drugs include blood thinners, diabetes medications, seizure medications, and heart medications. Older adults are more likely to be taking these types of medications, leading to a higher incidence of adverse reactions.  

Adverse drug reactions can also occur in older adults because certain types of medications work differently in their bodies. Due to these side effects, some types of medications should be avoided when possible by older adults. Some commonly-used medications are on this list including:

•   Blood-pressure medications like nifedipine and alpha-adrenergic blockers and agonists;

•   Analgesics like meperidine and pentazocine;

•   Anticholinergic medications including older antidepressants and allergy medications;

•   Benzodiazepines like alprazolam, lorazepam, or clonazepam;

•   NSAIDs, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen; and

•   COX-2 inhibitors like celecoxib.

Of course, always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any medication.

How can we help prevent adverse drug reactions?

One way is to keep a list of all of your medications, including any over-the-counter drugs, supplements, or vitamins that you regularly take. Bring the list with you to all of your medical appointments, including those with your general practitioner, any specialists, and even the dentist or eye doctor. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor, pharmacist, or another healthcare provider if you have a question about a medication or a potential interaction something else you are taking, especially if you start taking something new. To help you keep track of your daily medications, use a pill sorter with a clearly labeled box for each day of the week, or keep a medication journal.

Always follow your doctor or other healthcare provider’s instructions and make sure you keep all your scheduled appointments. Following these guidelines increases your chances of staying happy and healthy in your golden years.

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