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SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Seniors should be careful with medications – Lockport Union

Adverse drug events are responsible for 30 percent of hospital admissions for older patients. According to researchers responsible for publishing “Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Americans,” drug-related medical complications are likely to cause more than 100,000 deaths annually.

Most people in their 60s do not think of themselves as old; the fact is that we all start to metabolize drugs differently as we age. It is easy for adverse drug symptoms to be dismissed as a simple sign of aging, which makes it more difficult to identify a drug as the culprit for a new or worsening symptom. Take memory loss for example. A patient who complains to her doctor about the distressing and inconvenient problem of overactive bladder may be given a prescription – then gradually over time begins having a harder and harder time remembering things. Instead of attributing her problem to the new medication, she may very well chalk up her cognitive slips as “senior moments.”

But some data suggests that drugs for overactive bladder may actually contribute to cognitive impairment and memory loss. Other medications of this type include some older anti-depressants, drugs for Parkinson’s, and even Benadryl. It’s also all too often the case that doctors end up prescribing more and more medications to treat symptoms that are all a result of an initial medication. This can be a nasty cycle, escalating into a real nightmare.

There are many medications that experts think should almost never be given to people 65 years and older. One of the useful resources that medical experts, who work with older adults, have been relying on for years is called the Beers criteria. Beers criteria data have been adopted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Talk to your doctor if you think you or a loved one could be experiencing drug-related symptoms, like dizziness, physical impairment, or memory loss. It’s worth noting that some symptoms can take weeks or months to show up after you start a new drug. And as always, you should never stop taking any medication without first consulting your physician.

Communication is critical when it comes to avoiding drug interactions and other complications. You may find the following questions helpful in discussing your prescriptions with physicians:

• What is the medication supposed to do? It’s important to find out if a drug you are on is supposed to be taken preventatively (and therefore potentially forever) or only as needed.

• Are there other ways to treat the problem? There may be non-drug approaches that will work to relieve your symptoms.

• What is the prescribed dose? Older people often need lower doses on common medications; be sure your doctor has tailored the prescription to your needs.

• How should it be taken? Should it be taken at mealtime or on an empty stomach? If it’s to be taken every six hours, do you need to wake up to take it? Ask your doctor or pharmacists for detailed instructions.

• Which beverage is best? Some medications are inactivated by milk, others by juice or coffee so be sure to check.

• How long will I be taking this drug? It can be all too easy to remain on a “temporary” drug permanently. Occasionally, check in with your doctor about whether you still need it.

• What are the common side effects? It’s helpful to know what to expect.

• Will this drug interact with others? Make sure to list all your medications and supplements for your doctor whenever one is added.

We all tend to think doctors know best – and very often they do. But they also need our help; they cannot read minds to know when treatments are not working or are causing adverse reaction. Communication is one of the best cures for what ails you – so be sure to talk to your doctor about your concerns.

Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a Lockport-based non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit

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