Elderly most at risk of mixing their medicines

Average number of drug doses doubles in 20 years.

CHOICE is calling for widespread reforms to help patients, doctors and pharmacists reduce the risk – especially to the elderly – of mixing their medicines, with the average number of daily drug doses per person doubling in 20 years.

It’s now estimated that 40% of Australian aged 65 or over are taking five or more medications, increasing the risks of side effects and interactions of medicines including over-the-counter treatments such as aspirin and St John’s wort.

Research also shows many of the elderly are taking unnecessary medicines and are even ‘doubling up’ on some through having different doctors. There are also issues with under-medication due to confusion, neglect and cost.

Adverse drug events account for more than 140,000 hospital admissions a year, at a cost of $380 million, and it’s estimated that about half of these are avoidable. The most commonly implicated drugs are cardiovascular medicines, anticoagulants, anti-inflammatories and chemotherapy medicines.

CHOICE says in the US there are ‘brown-bag days’ where the elderly can take all their medicines – including over-the-counter medicines and herbal medicines - to doctors to check for necessity, inter-drug interactions and expired use-by dates, which could also be effective in Australia.

Australian consumers should also be aware of the medicines information offered by the National Prescribing Service (NPS) and the Medicare-funded Home Medicines Review offered by pharmacists.

“There’s a real need for elderly people and their carers to regularly do a drug ‘stocktake’ to ensure that all the medicines they are taking are compatible with each other, and that the patient isn’t doubling up through different doctors or different prescriptions,” says CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn.

“Those most at risk from adverse effects from overmedicating are those who take five or more medicines a day, have language difficulties, suffer from poor eyesight or dementia or attend several different doctors.”

CHOICE wants:

  • greater recognition and adherences to agreed criteria when prescribing to the elderly;
  • greater consideration of non-pharmacological therapies used in conjunction with or instead of drugs
  • a reduction in the role of drug company marketing to doctors and hospitals.

Related articles

Related tags:

The dangers of mixing medicines

CHOICE investigates adverse events associated with medication and what can be done to prevent them.

11 Sep 2009 | Our reliance on medicines has dramatically increased, and mixing them can prove a dangerous cocktail. CHOICE explains who’s at risk and why.

Learn more

Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.