Overmedication in the Elderly


Are you concerned about the overmedication of your elderly loved one? You may not know but four out of five older adults live with one or more chronic conditions, taking multiple medications at a time. Also, a survey of 17,000 Medicare beneficiaries found that 2 out of 5 patients reported taking 5 or more prescription medications. Many caregivers and family members see their loved ones taking handfuls of pills per day and ask themselves, is this necessary or even safe?

Overmedication and Dementia

Although there are many possible causes for dementia, including stroke or Alzheimer’s disease, it can also occur due to medication side effects or an interaction between multiple drugs. Many times it is overlooked because it is thought of as part of the aging process, but if your loved one is showing signs of mental decline or anything that just doesn’t seem right, getting medications under control can be a good place to start.

How Many Doctors, How Many Medications?

Many older adults have been given referrals to see any number of specialists. They may see a cardiologist, a dermatologist, a podiatrist, a pain management doctor, and the list goes on. And it seems the more doctors, the more medications. Most people have a primary care physician who does most of the referral and oversees the medication list but sometimes one of the specialists will refer to another specialist leaving the primary care doctor out of the loop.

As the list of doctors and medications grows so does the confusion. Many older adults have trouble or are unable to understand the instructions and the reasons for their medications. They also don’t always ask questions about their medication. When asked what the medication is for they simply say the doctor told me to take it.

Can Caretakers Help Prevent Overmedication?

Asking the right questions and understanding risks and benefits often become the responsibility of the caregiver/family member. It takes effort but can improve the quality of life for your loved one. Although younger people should be concerned about overmedicating too, the older population is at a greater risk because they can be more sensitive to adverse side effects including confusion, falls, hallucinations, malnutrition and often do not have the wherewithal to ask the right questions.

Questions To Ask Your Health Care Provider

  • Is there a holistic or lifestyle change approach that can be tried?

  • Is the medication still necessary? Is that blood pressure medicine still necessary? Maybe a diuretic was given for an acute swelling condition but the swelling is down. Or what about those painkillers for headaches that are no longer a problem.

  • Does the dosage need to be changed? A condition like blood pressure or high cholesterol may have improved and in that case, the dosage could be cut back.

  • Will there be any withdrawal symptoms if a drug is stopped without tapering off? Patients need to be monitored when being taken off of some medications such as psychiatric medications, pain medications, etc. You and your loved one need to know so you don’t stop medications on your own without proper instruction or monitoring.

With healthcare providers being overwhelmed with heavy workloads and many more specialists being involved in healthcare today overmedication, especially in the elderly, can often be overlooked. You know your loved one better than anyone and can be on the first line of defense for overmedication issues.