Health Risk for over-medicated Elderly

Julie Robotham
January 5, 2009

Elderly people receive no benefit from long-term use of many common medicines, and their health may even improve if they stop taking them, an Australian study has found.

Ceasing to take medicines such as sleeping pills and antidepressants improved people’s mental abilities and reduced the likelihood of serious falls, according to the analysis by David Le Couteur, director of the Centre for Education and Research on Ageing at the University of Sydney.

In up to 85 per cent of people aged 65 or older, blood pressure was stable for six months to five years after withdrawal of blood pressure medicines, without any increase in the death rate.

Professor Le Couteur said his research was "in some ways a politically motivated exercise" intended to highlight the gulf between the results of drug company-sponsored trials and how elderly people actually fared on the same drugs.

"There’s lots of money to show medicines work and very little money to show they don’t," said Professor Le Couteur, who works as a geriatrician at Concord Hospital.

Evidence of the effects of taking multiple drugs was "almost non-existent", he said.

Bad reactions to medication were responsible for up to one-third of hospital admissions of older patients.

Among people 65 and older, 40 per cent were taking five or more medicines.

Professor Le Couteur’s analysis, published in the journal Drugs & Aging, pooled results of previous research into drug withdrawal in older people.

In one New Zealand study, people taking sedatives or antidepressants were randomly assigned either to continue taking the medicines or were switched to a placebo. Those who took the placebo were 66 per cent less likely to suffer a fall over the following year.

Helena Britt, director of the Family Medicine Research Centre at the University of Sydney, said the study would help draw attention to the issue of drug side-effects, particularly with multiple drug use.

But she said there were barriers to weaning elderly people off drugs. "It must be very difficult for GPs, remembering many medicines initially are prescribed by specialists," she said.

This story was found at: The Age, Fairfax News Melbourne

 

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