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Beline Obeid

Ways older adults misuse medications


March 28, 2013
Q. I am the primary adult caregiver in our family for my parents. How do I help my aging parents manage all of their prescriptions and over-the-counter medications?

A. When drugs come from a doctor’s prescription pad, misuse is harder to identify. We assume pharmaceutical drugs are only used for medical conditions, but many older adults take medications for nonmedical reasons.

Abusing or misusing mood-altering prescription drugs can affect older adults lives in three ways: cognitive decline, deterioration of physical health and an inability to live independently. Adult children will find themselves in a caregiver role years, even decades, before they expected to face these problems.

Older adults can unintentionally misuse medications for many reasons. They may misunderstand or not hear the doctor’s instructions. Doctor’s may miscalculate the dose or not consider how a medication affects an older person differently. Medications may be mixed with other drugs or alcohol, causing undesirable interaction. A reluctance to ask for help can lead to misuse. Studies show that as many as two-thirds of older adults do not take their medications as prescribed.

Some older adults intentionally abuse medications. Sleeping aids, tranquilizers and pain pills are common medications of abuse. Seeking pleasurable effects or attempting to ease feelings of grief or loneliness, older adults may take larger or more frequent doses than recommended.

Running out of the medication more quickly as a result, some older adults will seek a prescription for the same mood-altering medication from more than one doctor.

Misuse of medications, whether deliberate or inadvertent, leads to serious consequences. Addiction is one consequence of misuse. Other problems include extended illness, depression, toxic drug interactions, accidents, hospitalization, admissions into nursing homes, cognitive impairment and death. To avoid drug misuse, families should consult with older adults, doctors and pharmacists.

Research all medications – including the appropriateness for an older adult – using an up-to-date reference guide to prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Put all prescription and over-the-counter drugs in a bag and take it to the doctor or pharmacist for review. Repeat once a year or every time a new medication is introduced.

For information on safely using prescription drugs, contact the National Council on Patient Information and Education at talkaboutrx.org.

Facts about medications and older adults, medication record forms, a medication check-up kit, and tips for talking to an older person about medications are available.

Additionally, the 2012 American Geriatrics Society’s Updated Beers Criteria identifies medications older adults should avoid or use with caution. They offer a printable pocket card. Go to ameri


Jeff Jay is a clinical interventionist, educator and author.

Debra Jay is a noted author, lecturer and interventionist. They have a private practice in Grosse Pointe and are the authors of “Love First, a Family’s Guide to Intervention.” They can be reached at lovefirst.net or (888) 220-4400.

The Family Center serves as the community’s hub for information, resources and referral for both families and professionals. It is a non-profit organization founded to promote an understanding of the role of parents and others in supporting youth to become competent, caring and responsible community members.

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web.org, call (313) 432.3832. Email: info@familycenterweb.org or write to: The Family Center, 20090 Morningside Drive, Grosse Pointe Woods, MI 48236.

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