More than 90% of people over age 65 may use at least one medication
each week, and up to 40% may use five or more drugs per week.
With so many seniors taking medications (or combinations
of multiple medications), errors in prescription or administration
are inevitable. Although the majority of these medication
errors do not cause injury, extensive drug use by the elderly
generates a significant number of deadly reactions or side-effects.
Based on data gathered over a one-year period from almost
30,000 Medicare patients ages 65 or older, potential adverse
drug events (ADEs) were compiled from multiple sources: health-care
provider reports; hospital discharge summaries; emergency
department notes; administrative incident reports; etc. Adverse
reactions occurring in the hospital setting were not evaluated
in this study from the Journal of the American Medical
The overall rate of adverse drug events was approximately
50 cases per 1,000 patients over one year; over a fourth of
the ADEs were considered preventable. More than one-third
of the reactions were deemed fatal, serious or life-threatening
(an even higher percentage of these most-dangerous events
- 42% - were preventable). Errors most often occurred in the
prescribing or monitoring stages. Cardiovascular medications
and antibiotics were not only the most-prescribed medication
classes, but also the most likely to be linked to an ADE.
If these findings are generalized to all Medicare patients,
nearly 2 million ADEs - a half-million of which are preventable
and 180,000 of which are fatal or life-threatening - may be
suffered annually in the U.S. Complicated medication regimens
can confuse seniors and the family members who assist them.
Also, rushed appointments with busy doctors can lead to mistakes
in prescription and communication. Be absolutely certain that
each and every medication you take is considered safe, especially
when combined with other prescriptions. Taking the fewest
drugs possible is the best way to avoid an accidental reaction.
Gurwitz JH, Field TS, et al. Incidence and
preventability of adverse drug events among older persons
in the ambulatory setting. Journal of the American Medical
Association 2003:289(9), pp. 1107-1116.
More senior health information can be found at www.chiroweb.com/find/tellmeabout/senior.html.