Study Highlights Problems of Polypharmacy in Elderly

Inappropriate medication use and underuse common among seniors

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 18 (HealthDay News) -- More than 40 percent of seniors who take five or more medications may take inappropriate drugs and/or miss out on potentially beneficial ones, according to the results of a new cross-sectional study published in the October issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Michael Steinman, M.D., of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and colleagues report that 65 percent of 196 patients, average age 74.5 years, took one or more inappropriate medication (including 37 percent who took a medication that violated the Beers drugs-to-avoid criteria and 57 percent who took at least one drug that was ineffective, not indicated or duplicative). Underuse was also common, occurring in 64 percent of patients, the report indicates.

The frequency of inappropriate medication use rose with the total amount of medications taken, while underuse was common at all levels of medication usage.

"In patients taking few medications, clinical vigilance and quality efforts should place particular focus on the underuse of medications," the study authors conclude. "In contrast, in patients taking large numbers of medications, it is important to expand -- but not substitute -- the focus to include inappropriate medication use."

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