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Increased rate of polypharmacy, dangerous drug complications among seniors

March 22, 2016
by Nicole Stempak, Senior Editor
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Researchers found more seniors are taking multiple medications. Fifteen percent of them used at least one life-threatening drug combination in 2010-2011, nearly double the risk from five years prior.

"This is a major public health problem," says study author Dima Qato, PharmD, MPH, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacy systems, outcomes and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago to CBS News. "Many of these potentially deadly drug interactions involve prescription and non-prescription medications and supplements that are not commonly used, but are increasingly being used by older adults. While it is not known how many older adults in the U.S. die of drug interactions, the risk seems to be growing and public awareness is lacking."

Qato and her colleagues studied changes in medication use among more than 2,000 adults aged 62 to 85 in 2005-06 and again in 2010-11 through at-home in person interviews with direct medication inspection. Their findings were published online in JAMA Internal Medicine.

They found older adults using at least five prescription medications, known as polypharmacy, increased from 30.6 percent to 35.8 percent. The use of at least one prescription medication also increased slightly from 84.1 percent to 87.7 percent. Use of dietary supplements jumped from 51.8 percent to 63.7 percent while use of over-the-counter medications declined from 44.4 percent to 37.9 percent.  

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