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Does Aging Change How Our Medications Work?

aging changes how medications work

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originally posted 11/27/2019
updated 2/26/2021

40% of older adults take at least five different drugs per week

For many of us, aging means taking more medications than when we were younger. When helping care for my mom over the years, it seemed the list grew larger every year. She, like other seniors, developed new chronic illnesses as she aged which required new and different pills.

In fact, 90 percent of older adults take at least one drug per week and more than 40 percent take at least five different drugs per week.  Common conditions treated with medication include conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and others.

Medicines are necessary in many situations and promotes better longevity, functionality and quality of life. However, with the benefits come risks. Our body’s reactions to drugs changes over time. I noticed with mom that sometimes a specific medication or dose that previously worked well no longer remedied a similar illness a few years later.

Seniors are unfortunately more than twice as susceptible to the side effects of drugs compared with younger individuals.

And side effects can be more severe, which generally results in more doctor visits.

Why does this happen? As per Dr. Deepa Pattani, Registered Pharmacist and owner of the Allen Pharmacy & Wellness Center , it has to do with the way a drug interacts with your body.  The process is called  ADME:

1. Absorption – how the drug gets absorbed into your bloodstream.
2. Distribution – the movement of drugs throughout the body.
3. Metabolism – the transformation of a drug within the body so that it can be excreted by the kidneys.
4. Excretion – the removal of the substance from the body.

Dr Pattani explained further that,

“Aging affects each of these steps in different ways”

Digestive system:

Changes in your digestive system affect how quickly medicines enter the bloodstream.

Body weight

Increases or decreases in your body weight may change the required dose of medicine necessary and how long it stays in your body.

Circulatory system

Your circulatory system can slow down, which might affect how fast drugs are carried to the liver and kidneys.

Liver and kidneys

Your liver and kidneys might work less efficiently than when you were younger, affecting the way a medication breaks down and is removed from the body.

Water and fat levels

As you age, the volume of water in your body decreases while the amount of fat tissue increases. This change can result in higher concentrations of drugs that dissolve in water since you have less water in your body to dilute them. At the same time, it also can lead to lower concentrations of drugs that dissolve in fat because now more fat tissue exists to store them.”

Due to age-related changes, many drugs tend to stay in an older person’s body much longer, prolonging the drug’s effect and increasing the risk of side effects. And while these risk factors can be intimidating, especially when you are not feeling well, you can take steps to manage your medications better.aging

*Ask your healthcare professional to write out a complete medicine schedule, with directions on exactly when and how to take your medicines. Bring a family member, friend or caregiver with you to the office to hear the instructions and if necessary, have them help you manage the medications for you at home.

*Purchase all your prescriptions from one place. It’s nice when your pharmacist has the opportunity to get to know you on a personal level, and hopefully you will feel comfortable asking about any potential side effects. It is also easier for you and your family to stay organized when you purchase all your medications at the same location.

*Use memory aids, such as a medication organizer, to take drugs as instructed. I found this advice to be invaluable when I needed to give mom various pills at different times during the day, some with food and some without.

*Keep an updated list of all the medications you take, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements, such as vitamins, minerals, and medicinal herbs. Store this list in a convenient location so your family members and caregivers have easy access to it. If you require treatment, your caregiver needs to know your current medicines before prescribing others that may interact badly with them.

The bottom line

Yes, aging changes how our medications work.

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