Study Says Many Medications Used by Elderly Can Heighten Health Risks, are Unsafe

Many of the medications elderly people use may be the wrong choice because they carry a high risk for falling, daytime grogginess and a loss of cognitive ability, say researchers from the Nordic School of Public Health, Sweden.

Called psychotropic drugs, the medications – including antidepressants, hypnotics and anxiolytics – may actually further the health problems of elderly people, instead of other types of medications that may not carry the same risks.

For example, the drugs may lead to loss of balance. Falling causes brittle bones to break, resulting in a long-term inability to remain active – and can heighten the chances of hospitalization or secondary health complications. Medications to calm anxiety, such as benzodiazepines, can cause daytime sleepiness that prevents adequate nighttime sleep, contributing to a depressed state. Anxiolytics and hypnotics can also render older persons more unsteady on their feet, contributing to higher anxiety levels as well as a risk for falling.

The research findings, highlighted in a ScienceDaily report, suggest that in Sweden alone, around 20 percent who are 75 years old or older are using prescription medications that may be unsafe or inappropriate. Adding to the drugs’ complications is the fact that older persons may respond at heightened proportions to the drugs’ side effects than younger people.

While improvements have been noted, such as a decline in potentially unsafe psychotropics between 2000 and 2008, researchers still believe the problem may be worse for lower-income elderly persons and warrants larger research to address the drugs’ use as a public health problem.