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Lifestyle

An Overlooked Epidemic: Older Americans Taking Too Many Unneeded Drugs

Sandra G. Boodman

Consider it America’s different prescription drug epidemic.

For many years, specialists have warned that older Americans are taking too many unnecessary drugs, typically prescribed by a number of docs, for doubtful or unknown causes. Researchers estimate that 25 p.c of individuals ages 65 to 69 take not less than 5 pharmaceuticals to deal with continual circumstances, a determine that jumps to almost 46 p.c for these between 70 and 79. Doctors say it isn’t unusual to come across sufferers taking greater than 20 medicine to deal with acid reflux disorder, coronary heart illness, despair or insomnia or different issues.

Unlike the overuse of opioid painkillers, the polypharmacy drawback has attracted little consideration, despite the fact that its hazards are nicely documented. But some docs are working to reverse the development.

At least 15 p.c of seniors looking for care yearly from docs or hospitals have suffered a medicine drawback; in half of those circumstances, the issue is believed to be probably preventable. Studies have linked polypharmacy to unnecessary death. Older sufferers, who’ve higher problem metabolizing medicines, usually tend to endure dizziness, confusion and falls. And the unwanted effects of medication are often misinterpreted as a brand new drawback, triggering extra prescriptions, a course of generally known as a prescribing cascade.

The glide path to overuse may be gradual: A affected person taking a drug to decrease blood stress develops swollen ankles, so a health care provider prescribes a diuretic. The diuretic causes a potassium deficiency, leading to a medication to deal with low potassium. But that triggers nausea, which is handled with one other drug, which causes confusion, which in flip is handled with extra remedy.

For many sufferers, issues come up when they’re discharged from the hospital on a bunch of latest drugs, layered on high of previous ones.

Alice Cave, who divides her time between Alexandria, Va., and Tucson, Ariz., found this when she traveled to Cheyenne, Wyo., after her 87-year-old aunt was despatched residence following remedy for a stroke in 2015.

Before her hospitalization, Cave stated, her aunt, a retired phone firm worker whose imaginative and prescient is impaired by glaucoma, had been taking seven medicine per day. Five new ones have been added within the hospital, Cave stated.

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“She came home and had a huge bag of pills, half of which she was already taking, plus pages and pages of instructions,” she stated. Some have been speculated to be taken with meals, some on an empty abdomen. Cave stated she spent a number of hours sorting the drugs into an enormous blue capsule field. “It was crazy — and scary.”

Cave stated she felt helpless to do a lot; her aunt’s docs didn’t query the necessity for extra medicine.

When Shannon Brownlee’s mom was taken to an emergency room lately to find out whether or not her arm ache would possibly sign a coronary heart assault (it didn’t) a heart specialist prescribed 5 new medicine — together with an opioid — to the small dose of a diuretic she had been taking to regulate her blood stress.

Brownlee, senior vp of the Lown Institute, a Boston-based group that seeks to enhance well being care high quality by decreasing pointless remedy, stated that when her brother questioned the need of so many new medicine for a lady in her late 80s, the specialist replied frostily, “I don’t see anything wrong with prescribing lots of medication to older people.”

Bring The Pill Bottles

“This problem has gotten worse because the average American is on a lot more medications than 15 years ago,” stated heart specialist Rita Redberg, a professor of medication on the University of California at San Francisco.

Studies bolster Redberg’s rivalry: A 2015 report discovered that the share of Americans of all ages who repeatedly took not less than 5 pharmaceuticals practically doubled between 2000 and 2012, from eight p.c to 15 p.c. University of Michigan researchers lately reported that the proportion of individuals older than 65 taking not less than three psychiatric medicine more than doubled within the 9 years starting in 2004. Nearly half of these taking the potent drugs, which embrace antipsychotic medicine used to deal with schizophrenia, had no psychological well being prognosis.

Redberg and different docs try to counter the blizzard of prescriptions by a grass-roots motion known as “deprescribing” — systematically discontinuing medicines which might be inappropriate, duplicative or pointless.

Interest in deprescribing, which was pioneered in Canada and Australia, is rising within the United States, bolstered by physician-led efforts, such because the five-year-old Choosing Wisely marketing campaign. The Beers Criteria, an inventory of overused and probably unsafe medicine for seniors first revealed in 1991, has been adopted by other tools geared toward curbing pointless drug use.

“Lots of different medications get started for reasons that are never supported by evidence,” stated Redberg, editor in chief of JAMA Internal Medicine. “In general, we like the idea of taking a pill” quite a bit higher than non-drug measures, corresponding to improved consuming habits or train.

“That’s what we were taught as physicians: to prescribe drugs,” stated Ranit Mishori, a professor of household drugs at Georgetown University and a proponent of deprescribing. “We are definitely not taught how to take people off meds.”

Kathryn McGrath, a Philadelphia geriatrician, stated she tries to start each appointment with a assessment of medicines, which she asks sufferers to deliver with them. “I think having the pill bottles” is rather more highly effective than an inventory, stated McGrath, who has written about how to deprescribe safely.

Although assist is rising, deprescribing faces formidable obstacles.

Among them, specialists say, is a paucity of analysis about how finest to do it, relentless promoting that encourages shoppers to ask their docs for brand new medicine, and a robust disinclination – baked into the tradition of medication — to countermand what one other doctor has ordered. Time constraints play a big position. So do efficiency measures which might be seen as a mandate to prescribe medicine even after they make nearly no sense, corresponding to giving statins to terminally ailing sufferers.

A Reluctance To Overrule

“There’s a reluctance to tinker or change things too much,” stated University of Michigan geriatric psychiatrist Donovan Maust, who labels the phenomenon “clinical inertia.” When inheriting a brand new affected person, Maust stated, docs are inclined to assume that if a colleague prescribed a drug, there should be a superb cause for it — even when they don’t know what it’s. Maust stated he tries to fight inertia by writing time-limited orders for remedy.

He lately started treating a person in his 80s with dementia who was taking eight psychiatric medicine — every of which may trigger vital unwanted effects and most of which had been prescribed for undetermined causes.

“It’s very typical to see a patient who has a few episodes of reflux and is then put on a [proton pump inhibitor, or PPI] and a few years later are still taking it,” stated Georgetown’s Mishori. Many specialists say the heartburn medicine are overprescribed, and research have linked their long-term use to fractures, dementia and untimely loss of life.

“This is a cultural problem and an awareness problem exacerbated by the fragmentation of care,” stated Brownlee, the writer of “Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer.” Many docs, she added, have by no means heard of deprescribing.

Before his loss of life a number of years in the past, docs suggested Brownlee’s father, a hospice affected person, to proceed taking a statin, together with a number of different drugs. None would enhance or prolong his life, and all had probably dangerous unwanted effects.

Rx: What For?

Older folks taking plenty of remedy was what Canadian pharmacist Barbara Farrell encountered when she started working at a geriatric hospital in Ottawa practically twenty years in the past. Her expertise, she stated, was a catalyst for the Canadian Deprescribing Network, a consortium of researchers, physicians, pharmacists and well being advocates she co-founded. The group seeks to drastically cut back inappropriate remedy use amongst Canadian seniors by 2020.

Farrell, a medical scientist on the Bruyere Research Institute, has additionally helped write guidelines, utilized by docs within the United States and different international locations, to securely deprescribe sure lessons of broadly used medicine, together with proton pump inhibitors and sedatives.

“I’ve found a lot of receptivity” to the rules amongst physicians, Farrell stated. “We know there are pockets around Canada and the world where they’re being implemented.”

One of Farrell’s most memorable successes concerned a lady in her late 70s who was utilizing a wheelchair and was practically comatose.

“She would literally slide out of her chair,” Farrell recalled. The lady was taking 27 medicine 4 occasions per day and had been recognized with dementia and a bunch of different illnesses.

After reviewing her drugs, Farrell and her colleagues have been in a position to weed out duplicative and probably dangerous medicine and cut back the doses of others. A 12 months later, the lady was “like a different person”: She was in a position to stroll with a cane and dwell principally independently, and she or he reported that her physician stated she didn’t have dementia in spite of everything.

When Farrell requested one other affected person why she was taking thyroid remedy, the lady replied that her physician had prescribed it for weight reduction after her final being pregnant — in 1955.

“The patients I see are the tip of the iceberg,” Farrell stated.

One solution to facilitate deprescribing, Farrell stated, is to require docs to report why a drug is being prescribed, a proposal the deprescribing community has made to Canadian well being officers. A recent study by a staff from the Boston VA Healthcare System discovered robust assist amongst docs for this idea.

While some docs are reluctant to discontinue drugs, sufferers may be cautious, too.

“They may say, ‘I tried stopping my sleeping pill and I couldn’t sleep the next night, so I figured I needed it,’” Farrell stated. ” Nobody defined to them that rebound insomnia, which may happen after stopping sleeping capsules, lasts three to 5 days.”

Mishori stated that she deprescribes just one remedy at a time so she will detect any drawback that arises from that change. And, she provides, “I never take people off of a medication without doing something else.” In the case of heartburn medicine, she would possibly first advocate taking the drug solely when wanted, not repeatedly. Or she would possibly counsel a safer different, corresponding to an over-the-counter antacid pill.

Maust, the geriatric psychiatrist, recommends that docs actively concentrate on “the big picture” and thoroughly weigh whether or not the advantages of a drug outweigh its dangers.

“In geriatrics,” he stated, “less is more.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nationwide well being coverage information service. It is an editorially impartial program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which isn’t affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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