7 Reasons Older Adults Are at Risk for Drug-Related Problems

With almost 90% of older adults taking one prescription drug regularly (and 36% consuming at least five), concerned family members often wonder about the potential risks of daily medication use for their elderly loved ones. From overdosing to not taking medications as prescribed, various issues can affect older adults who use prescription and over-the-counter drugs — but what makes that age group particularly vulnerable? 

 Today, we’re discussing the risks older adults face when taking medications and some of the reasons they’re at risk for potential drug-related problems. 

What Are the Risks the Elderly Face When Taking Drugs Regularly? 

Many possible effects can occur in older adults who take prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicines regularly, including (but not limited to): 

  • Drug ineffectiveness 
  • Adverse drug effects 
  • Underdosage 
  • Overdosage 
  • Inadequate monitoring of usage 
  • Nonadherence 
  • Drug interactions 

7 Reasons Older Adults Are at Risk for Drug-Related Issues 

Sure, there are potential repercussions associated with taking one or more medications daily, but what causes those problems in the first place? Below, we discuss seven reasons the elderly are at a higher risk for drug-related health concerns. 

#1 Polypharmacy  

Polypharmacy is a term used to describe the simultaneous use of multiple drugs to treat a combination of health conditions. Since people tend to have more health concerns as they age, polypharmacy is more common in older adults. The consistent use of multiple drugs increases the potential for drug interactions and adverse reactions to one or more of their medications. 

#2 Reduced Kidney and Liver Function 

The kidney and liver are responsible for metabolizing and excreting drugs through the body. As people age, the function of these essential organs sometimes begins to decline. If this occurs, it often becomes challenging for the liver and kidneys to filter medication ingredients out of their systems, leading to a higher risk of drug toxicity. 

#3 Cognitive Decline 

According to the CDC, cognitive decline occurs when someone experiences more frequent confusion or memory loss. While it’s common for older adults to have the occasional lapse in memory, those with dementia are more likely to have trouble with important daily functions like managing their medications. They could forget to take doses, take one too many pills or be unaware of harmful potential drug interactions. 

#4 Socioeconomic Factors 

Some medications, such as cancer treatments and insulin, come with a hefty price tag. Even individuals with a combination of Medicare, Medicaid and personal health insurance can find it challenging to afford some of their medications. As a result, older adults are sometimes forced to reduce their medication doses or discontinue certain drugs altogether. Unfortunately, this can lead to a rapid deterioration in their health as underlying conditions go untreated. 

 #5 Multiple Healthcare Providers 

It’s not uncommon for older adults to have consults with multiple physicians each year, including primary care doctors and specialists like cardiologists, urologists and geriatricians. Each of these providers may prescribe several medications to the same patient, and without a lack of coordinated care (or if the patient forgets to list all their medications on the intake form), there’s a risk of unknowingly prescribing drugs that may interact negatively with each other. 

#6 Over-the-Counter Medications 

When you’re sick or have a headache, you often rely on over-the-counter medications to alleviate some of your symptoms. Older adults do the same thing, but when these drugstore remedies are used in combination with their prescription drugs, they could experience adverse effects. 

#7 Improper Medication Storage and Disposal 

We’ve all been there. A sore throat hits and you dig to the back of your medicine cabinet looking for those throat lozenges you bought a while back. When you find them, you realize they expired three years ago — not ideal. 

Older adults often face a similar scenario, only instead of something as harmless as throat lozenges, they find more potent expired or unused medications. If they use them, it can increase their risk of accidental overdoses or medicine mix-ups. 

Fuel Your Passions at the University of Florida 

If you’re excited about the prospect of working with older adults and advocating for their well-being, including keeping them safe from drug-related problems, the University of Florida provides a range of graduate programs that specialize in aging. 

Our Master of Science in Medical Sciences with a concentration in Innovative Aging Studies is a 30-credit online program that will help you turn your passion into a career by concentrating on the biological, clinical, ethical, psychological, sociological and legal aspects of aging. With demand for geriatricians growing rapidly (30,000 could be needed by 2030), there’s no better time than now to invest in your future — and help aging populations transition from one stage of life to the next. 

Our other online graduate degree program, the Master of Science in Medical Sciences with a concentration in Medical Physiology and Aging, provides advanced education and training in the physiological changes that occur during aging, as well as in the diagnosis and treatment of age-related diseases. 

Whichever route you take, UF provides plenty of benefits to virtual Gators: 

  • No GRE scores required 
  • Entirely online courses designed for convenience and flexibility 
  • Affordable tuition rates 
  • Year-round start dates 

After you’ve chosen the program that sparks your enthusiasm and aligns with your career goals, fill out an application to secure your spot for next semester.