Some seniors may be taking meds they don't need, geriatrician says

·2 min read
Research suggests about one-quarter of Canadians take at least 10 prescription medications, P.E.I. geriatrician Dr. Martha Carmichael says.   (Elise Amendola/The Associated Press - image credit)
Research suggests about one-quarter of Canadians take at least 10 prescription medications, P.E.I. geriatrician Dr. Martha Carmichael says. (Elise Amendola/The Associated Press - image credit)

A geriatrician on P.E.I. is urging seniors to review the medication they are taking to see if it's still beneficial or, worse, causing undue harm.

But Dr. Martha Carmichael emphasized the practice of "deprescribing" should only be done with the help of a health-care professional, such as a doctor or pharmacist.

"Deprescribing really is just one part of appropriate prescribing," she said in an interview with Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

"So it asks two questions. One, what medications or vitamins or supplements am I taking that might no longer be of benefit to me or that might be causing harm? And what medications am I not taking that might actually be appropriate for me or that may confer me some benefit?"

Carmichael says 'deprescribing' should only be done with the help of a health-care professional.
Carmichael says 'deprescribing' should only be done with the help of a health-care professional.(Submitted by Dr. Martha Carmichael)

Research suggests up to 80 per cent of Canadians 65 and older report having at least one chronic condition and about one-quarter take at least 10 prescription medications, Carmichael said.

"We tend to get more and more medications over the years to help manage those chronic conditions. But at the same time, the risks and benefits of medications change as we age, and we often forget or don't prioritize regular medication reviews and deprescribing is really just one part of a regular medication review."

The more medication a person takes, she said, the greater risk of harmful consequences such as drug interactions, falls, fractures, memory problems, hospitalizations and, especially in older adults, death.

Data shows that in 2016, about one in 143 seniors in Canada — about 41,000 — were hospitalized because of an adverse drug reaction or a harmful effect of medications. Carmichael said that's obviously bad for seniors, but it also puts a strain on the health-care system.

"In Canada, we spend about $400 million a year on potentially harmful prescription medications. That's just the medications themselves. And we spend over a billion dollars a year on the health-care costs related to those harmful medications. And again, things like fall, fractures, emergency department visits and hospital admissions. So it really is a serious issue."

Carmichael suggests not only discussing which medications might be appropriate to reduce or to stop, but also talking about non-drug therapy that might be more helpful, such as cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia, for example.

"The goal really is for optimal health for all Island seniors. We want to live longer and we want to live well. And this is one way to kind of increase our chance of being able to do that."

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