Did you know that 40% of older adults take at least five different drugs per week?
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 promote better longevity, functionality, and quality of life. However, with the benefits come risks. Our body’s reactions to drugs change 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.
Side Effects of Medications
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, 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”
Changes in your digestive system affect how quickly medicines enter the bloodstream.
Increases or decreases in your body weight may change the required dose of medicine and how long it stays in your body.
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.”
How to Better Manage Your Medications
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.
Create a medication schedule.
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.
Consolidate where you purchase your medications.
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.
Utilize memory aids.
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.
Create an updated list of all medications.
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.
Yes, Aging Changes How Our Medications Work
Below are some commonly asked questions about how aging affects our medications. We hope the information is helpful.
Do medications become less effective as we age?
Not necessarily. While some medications may become less effective due to changes in the body’s response or increased drug resistance, others might be more potent because they’re metabolized more slowly. It varies depending on the specific medication and individual factors.
Are older adults more susceptible to medication side effects?
Yes, older adults are generally more susceptible to medication side effects because their bodies may process drugs more slowly, leading to a buildup in the bloodstream. This can increase the risk of adverse reactions.
Can medication doses change with age?
Yes, medication doses often need adjustment as people age to account for changes in metabolism and body function. Healthcare providers may prescribe lower doses to prevent side effects or increase doses if the medication is less effective.
What precautions should older adults take when taking medications?
Older adults should always consult with their healthcare providers before starting or stopping any medications. It’s crucial to follow the prescribed dosage and keep a list of all medications to avoid interactions.
Can lifestyle changes offset some of the effects of aging on medications?
Yes, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, regular exercise, and staying hydrated can help support the body’s ability to metabolize medications. Additionally, avoiding alcohol and tobacco can reduce the risk of interactions.
Are there any specific medications that older adults should be particularly cautious with?
Certain medications, like benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers, can be riskier for older adults due to their potential for dependence and side effects. It’s essential for healthcare providers to carefully consider alternatives and monitor their use.
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