Overmedication harming elderly: study

A world-first University of Otago study which shows how overmedication is injuring and killing our elderly could help to encourage moves to review and reduce this medication.

Elderly taking multiple high-risk medications for sleeping, pain or incontinence were twice as likely as others to fall and break bones, with many dying within a year of their injury, the research showed.

"People start them and don't stop them," university researcher and geriatrician Hamish Jamieson said.

"They end up on these long-term medications."

The study, undertaken through the university's Christchurch campus, was the first in the world to measure the impact of taking multiple medications on fractures in the elderly, he said.

In elderly, 90% of fractures resulted from a fall.

Between 20% to 30% of elderly who broke a hip died within a year.

The information would now be used in a nationwide study of pharmacy databases to see if prescriptions of certain high-risk drugs could be reduced in the elderly.

Dr Jamieson said rather than stopping medications themselves, elderly patients should regularly get their GP to review their medication.

Reviewing and reducing medication as appropriate was a "complex" task, and clinical pharmacists could also help, he said.

The impact of fractures on individuals and the community was "immense", and resulted in loss of mobility, poorer quality of life, and early entry into an aged care facility.

Medications linked with notably increasing risk of broken bones had "sedatory" and "anticholinergic" (blocking nerve impulses) side effects.

All medication had "beneficial impacts", and although the long-term side effects on the elderly could be subtle, they could "cause a major impact in the frail elderly and can cause falls, loss of independence and even premature death".

New Zealand's world-leading data set on the elderly, a Ministry of Health database called InterRAI, had made the study possible, he said.

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