CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen wrote an eye-opener on elders and drugs titled "Is Grandma drugged up?" She tells the story of a family who had their mother diagnosed with dementia, and then decided to get a second opinion from a geriatrician. The diagnosis? Too many medicines interacting with on another.
While this piece goes on to give statistics on how drugs interact and how elders metabolize them differently, one of the most interesting parts, to me, was a quote stating that "the risk for drug errors is seven times greater in seniors than in people under age 65." I knew it was higher, but seven times?
Most of us know elders who are still going to the clinic's pharmacy to get some prescriptions filled, because that's where they originally got their medicine. Then they go to their drugstore for others. This in itself is a red flag. With computerized cross checks in place at modern pharmacies, everyone should get his or her prescriptions filled (when possible) at the same pharmacy - you don't have to be an elder to be in danger of a drug interaction.
One of the strongest arguments for anyone - but particularly someone with a problem that affects his or her cognitive abilities - to take all of the medicine bottles to the doctor who is diagnosing/treating them, is that this particular combination of medicines may have been okay ten years ago, but it could be lethal now. Even more likely, drugs could have been added, one at a time, by different doctors who are unaware of all the medications an elder has wracked up over the years.
The side effects of one medication alone can be devastating for some people. The combined side effects of a bag full of meds could turn a life up-side-down. What appears to be dementia could be a combination of side effects, or medications given to treat the side effects of other medications. The very first thing someone with cognitive problems should have checked is how every medication they are taking (and the combinations of the medications) is affecting them. It's happened many times before and will happen again - as the patient is weaned from the drugs, the cognitive abilities return.
Even if the person is not that fortunate, at least the prescribing doctor knows she is starting to prescribe with a clean slate. That should make everyone feel more confident.
Published On: June 17, 2008