Problems Taking Medications
Many older adults take medications that treat health conditions like pain and heart disease. Most take their medications properly, but some older adults have problems taking them the way they should. This includes unintentionally taking a medication the wrong way, as well as intentional abuse.
Some people accidentally take medicines incorrectly, often without knowing it. They may forget their medicine, take it too often, or take the wrong amount. As people age, trouble with vision or memory can make it hard to use medications correctly.
Taking lots of medications at different times of the day can be confusing. Another common problem is having more than one doctor who prescribes medicines, but no single doctor who monitors them all and checks for any interactions.
Taking a prescription medication as directed by a doctor is generally safe and effective. But lately there has been a rise in the number of older adults who use medicines improperly, including for non-medical reasons, and suffering the consequences. Recent reports show increased hospitalizations and visits to emergency rooms by older people involving improper use of prescription as well as illicit drugs.
Intentional abuse is when a person knowingly uses prescription medications the wrong way, takes medicines not prescribed for him or her, or combines them with alcohol or illicit drugs. People may do this to feel good, feel better, or calm down.
Sometimes a big change, such as retirement, the death of a loved one, or failing health, can lead to loneliness, boredom, anxiety, or depression. That can prompt a person to begin, continue, or increase the abuse of medications or other drugs.
Medication-related hospital admissions for older adults are mostly linked to overdoses from pain medication and withdrawal symptoms from other addictive drugs, such as sleeping pills.
Risks for Older Adults
Older adults may suffer serious consequences from even moderate drug abuse because of several risk factors. As the body ages, it cannot absorb and break down medications and drugs as easily as it used to.
As a result, even when an older adult takes a medication properly, it may remain in the body longer than it would in a younger person. As people age, they may also become more sensitive to alcohol’s effects.
Aging brains are also different than young ones and may be at greater risk for harmful drug effects (on memory or coordination, for example). Having other medical conditions (such as heart disease) that require medications for treatment while abusing prescription drugs at the same time also presents unique risks for older adults, many of whom have chronic medical conditions.
Find Out More
- Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Medicine/medicine.htm
- Older Adults and Alcohol: You Can Get Help: www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/older-adults-and-alcohol/get-facts-about-aging-and-alcohol
- MedlinePlus: Drug Reactions: medlineplus.gov/drugreactions.html
- MedlinePlus: Alcohol: medlineplus.gov/alcohol.html
- Clinical Trials: Drug Reactions: medlineplus.gov/drugreactions.html#cat27
- Alcohol Use and Older Adults: http://go.usa.gov/chU3W
- Improper Use of Medications: http://go.usa.gov/chU3R