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Dear Doctor: Polypharmacy in Elderly

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By Dr. Moiz Ahmed

    Geriatric patients seek answers to a common question: Dear Doctor:  How can I get rid of my medication? Do I really need all of these medications? For answers, read below.

What is Poly-pharmacy?  

    The use of multiple medications is often referred to as polypharmacy. Another definition is the use of one medication to correct the adverse effect of another medication, totaling up to greater than 5-6 medications.

prescription-drug-addictions    Elderly people require specific attentions to all their medications because they may have multiple medical disorders.  In addition, special attention to patient’s medication list is important if they also take over the counter medications and herbal supplements. In some cases, medications may be prescribed by specialists without reviewing other medications used by the elder patient. Drugs are excreted mostly by the kidneys or the liver, which in an elderly patient, one or both of these organs may be impaired due to aging. Thus, side effects of the medication can be different depending on age, kidney and liver function. As a result, the medication dose may need adjustment to avoid toxicity.  

Common Drugs

    Most common drugs used—Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, Benadryl and Aspirin—are available over the counter. These medications can contribute significantly to drug reactions in the elderly if used for a long period of time without medical supervision. Generally, the more drugs a person takes, the greater the risk of adverse reactions and drug interactions. 

Polypharmacy is Preventable

    As a geriatric physician, I always recommend patients to talk to their doctor about any medications they are taking including herbal supplements or any over the counter medications. Patients should always read the instructions on the medicine bottle and verify with the nurse or doctor if they are not sure how to take the medication. Try to be aware of the medical issues you have. Learn what and why medications are prescribed to you. Always keep in writing of your entire past medical history, allergies, and medication list.  

Dr. Moiz Ahmed is a Geriatric and Family Medicine Physician for the UT Health Science Center at Houston and provides patient care at UT Physicians at Cinco Ranch located at 23923 Cinco Ranch Blvd. in Katy. To schedule an appointment, please call 713-486-5300.

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