Drugs wrongly prescribed to millions of elderly

A study from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Rockville, MD, highlights the problem of inappropriate prescribing in elderly patients in the United States. The study also underscores the importance of the safe use of prescription medications as a critical component of quality of care and demonstrates the challenges involved in assessing safe use.

According to the findings published in the Dec. 12, 2001, Journal of the American Medical Association, about one-fifth of the approximately 32 million elderly Americans not living in nursing homes in 1996 used one or more of 33 prescription medicines considered potentially inappropriate. Nearly one million elderly used at least one of 11 medications that a panel of geriatric medicine and pharmacy experts advising the researchers agreed should always be avoided in the elderly. These 11 medications include long-acting benzodiazapines, sedative or hypnotic agents, long-acting oral hypoglycemics, analgesics, anti-emetics, and gastrointestinal antispasmodics.

The study also suggests that elderly women and older people who are in poor health and who use more prescriptions are more likely than others to receive inappropriate drugs.

According to lead author, Chunliu Zhan, MD, PhD, the actual extent of inappropriate medication prescribing may be much higher than the estimates because of the conservative criteria the researchers used and because of the rate of introduction of new pharmaceutical agents into the market.