September 9th, 2019
Medication overload drives rise in adverse drug events among older adults
“On Grandparents Day, September 8, 2020, one thing we can do for older adults in our families is check-in with them about their health and well-being. Medication should be front and center in this discussion. The more medications a person takes, including over the counter products and supplements, the greater the chances they could be seriously harmed. Taking multiple medications puts older adults at real risk for medication overload.
The best remedy is to ask your doctor for a prescription checkup. During a prescription checkup, the patient brings their medications to the physician visit. Together, they review when each one was started, why it was prescribed, and discuss any side effects the patient might be experiencing. Then they can decide if the medication is still necessary. Removing medications can not only improve health and quality of life, it can save lives.”
—Shannon Brownlee, senior vice president of the Lown Institute and co-author of “Medication Overload: America’s Other Drug Problem”
In April 2019, the Lown Institute released Medication Overload: America’s Other Drug Problem. The report documents a dramatic increase in adverse drug events among older Americans, which parallels the rise in medication consumption over two decades. Today, more than 40 percent of older adults take five or more prescription medications, an increase of 200 percent over two decades.
If nothing is done to change current practices, medication overload will contribute to the premature deaths of 150,000 older Americans over the next decade and reduce the quality of life for millions more. Reducing inappropriate or unnecessary medications could save as much as $62 billion over the next decade in unnecessary hospitalization for older adults alone. Implementing regular prescription checkups for older Americans is one of multiple recommendations that form the basis of the Lown Institute’s National Action Plan, which will be formally released in January 2020.
Every day, 750 older people living in the United States (age 65 and older) are hospitalized due to serious side effects from one or more medications. Over the last decade, older people sought medical treatment more than 35 million times for adverse drug events and were hospitalized more than 2 million times.
The prescribing of multiple medications to individual patients (called “polypharmacy” in the scientific literature) has reached epidemic proportions. More than four in ten older adults take five or more medications, the threshold at which experts become concerned about the level of risk.
If nothing is done to change current practices, medication overload will contribute to the premature deaths of 150,000 older Americans over the next decade and reduce the quality of life for millions more. Reducing inappropriate or unnecessary medications could save as much as $62 billion over the next decade in unnecessary hospitalization for older adults alone.
The Lown Institute has published a major research report, Medication Overload: America’s Other Drug Problem, laying out the facts about medication overload and the rapid rise in adverse drug events over the last two decades.
This research is supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.