Recently an article appeared on CNN with the title “Is Gramma Drugged Up? This article went into great detail about a very prevalent problem today. It began with a personal story of one family and their problem of over-medication of a senior family member.
The risk of over-medication is particularly critical among our older population. In the article it is reported that every year, 38 million older Americans suffer drug complications, 180,000 of which are life-threatening. The article continues by stating that the risk for drug errors is seven times greater in seniors than in people under age 65.
Dr. Jerry Gurwitz, chief of geriatric medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School was quoted as saying, ” When I was in training, my mentor taught me the maxim that any new symptom in an older person should be considered a drug side effect until proven otherwise.”
While it is true that only a doctor can determine if someone is suffering from medication side efforts or from an actual disease or medical problem, there are some steps we can all take to help our doctors sort out which is which.
We can gather specific information about drugs that often cause problems, especially for older people, or interact adversely with other drugs being taken. We must be sure that all health care providers are made aware of all the medications in use. Often the doctors do not have the time to review in detail all the medications, especially if there are many of them. Asking questions of our pharmacist when filling a prescription is another source of information. Always be certain that the pharmacist knows about all the medications being taken as frequently there are both a local pharmacy and one or more mail order pharmacies supplying drugs as well as several doctors writing scripts for the same person. In many situations these multiple medications can interact and counter-react with each other to create unnecessary problems and misleading symptoms.
Another of my concerns is standardized dosing. My medical problems, and any symptoms I have, are unique to me and my individual circumstances including my body size, my activity level , and my past medical history. A prescription written for me must be tailored for me personally, and not be a standard dose for a person of any size or medical history with the same symptoms or conditions for which I need the medication. Every person is a unique individual and we must each take responsibility to see that all medical treatments and medications we receive are appropriate for our special circumstances.
This leads to a second major area where I see considerable lack of monitoring. This is the long-term, on-going continuation of some medications. All too often prescriptions are started for a very valid reason, but then never stopped when the problem has been resolved. For this reason we have many people, especially seniors, who take a whole drawer full of medications and thus become over-medicated. That is why I adhere to the rule of only taking the smallest dosage for the shortest time for those situations when medication is required.
Prescription drugs play a significant role in all health care. Many lives have been saved by modern medical discoveries but this must be kept in proper prospective. In today’s world it is extremely important for everyone to become knowledgeable and to become their own advocate in all medical treatments and decisions, including carefully monitoring all medications being used.
This is a critical situation for all of us to become knowledgeable about, for our own health, and the health and well-being of those we love, especially our elderly family members.