The risk of polypharmacy to senior citizens

Polypharmacy – when a person takes multiple prescription drugs – can be dangerous to people of any age. People ages 65 and over, however, are at increased risk. Why? Because senior citizens tend to take multiple medications at a higher rate than the rest of the population.

According to Health Research Funding, for people ages 65 – 69 the average number of prescriptions they take is approximately 14. The number climbs with age: people ages 80 – 84 take an average of 18 prescriptions.

What are the dangers of polypharmacy?

Polypharmacy is not always a problem, of course. People of all ages take combinations of medications, and many have no adverse effects. When adverse effects do occur, however, they can be fatal. Some of the most frequent adverse effects include:

  • Disability
  • Life-threatening medical conditions
  • Hospitalization
  • Death

The problem is so common that polypharmacy is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.

How does this happen?

We assume that our doctors and pharmacists understand drug interactions and are carefully monitoring the prescription medications we take. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The two biggest issues patients face are:

  • Receiving prescriptions from multiple physicians
  • Failure of health care providers to note how the medications will interact with each other

When these issues result in negligence that harms the patient, it may be possible to file a medical malpractice suit. You or your elderly family member may need compensation to cover subsequent medical bills and other financial and personal losses from the incident.

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