At least one in 10 elderly people is prescribed a drug they should not be taking – and the true figure could well be twice as bad. Worse, many of the drugs that are being inappropriately prescribed have a high risk of causing side-effects.

This was the worrying picture that emerged from a study into drug prescribing for the elderly, based on data from a health insurer in the US. Included in this analysis were the medical records of over 760,000 people, aged over 65 years, who were not in hospital.

Researchers at Duke University, in North Carolina, compared prescription records with the Beers list, which itemises those drugs generally believed to commonly cause side-effects in the elderly and, so, should be avoided.

They found that 21 per cent of elderly patients had been prescribed one or more drugs on the list, 23 per cent of these for amitriptyline and doxepin. More than 15 per cent of prescriptions were for two drugs on the list, and 4 per cent were for three or more drugs.

An accompanying editorial commented: “If even half the number of elderly subjects is taking potentially inappropriate medications, one in 10 of all older persons are receiving a drug that is potentially not appropriate” (Arch Intern Med, 2004; 164: 1621-5).

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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