Medication Problems and the Elderly

January 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

At 83 years old, Martha still lived in her own home and enjoyed working in her garden and canning peach.  It was becoming harder to motivate herself, to get up in the mornings and accomplish the day’s tasks.  She confided to her daughter that she felt anxious and tired.  Her daughter, who was taking medication for anxiety, took Martha to her own doctor, not Martha’s and got her a prescription for Valium.  In doing so, the daughter’s doctor, who had never seen Martha and who did not have her medical history, was only aware of a few medications they told him she was taking.
Martha, in fact, was taking nine different medications as well as herbal supplements.

The addition of Valium to her existing list of prescribed drugs sent her to the emergency room with respiratory distress.  If she had gone to her own doctor, he would have found that a dosage adjustment of her current medications would have solved her anxiety.

Medication errors are common in the elderly.  Many seniors take on average six to eight different prescriptions as well as over-the-counter drugs.  Many times the elderly will not go back to their doctor to have their dosage evaluated and changed if necessary.  Family members should be aware that elderly parents may tend to take the family’s advice over going to their own doctor.  Even though children want to help increase the health and stamina of their parents, they may in fact be causing damage by misdirecting their loved ones.

Where a younger person can benefit from herbal supplements like Ginkgo Biloba, Saw Palmetto and others, it may cause adverse reactions with their prescription medications.

In 2003, a panel of experts put together a list of potential medications that would not be appropriate to give to seniors.  This is called the “Beers List” after one of the research professionals.  Dr. Donna M. Fick, R.N., one of the panel members for updating the “Beers List”, states in her article on

Just as our bodies physically slow down as we age, changes occur in the way that older bodies handle pharmaceuticals, and this has motivated experts to develop a list of drugs that may be harmful to elderly patients.

“With age, drugs tend to build up in the body, and the distribution and elimination of drugs from the body changes as well,” says Dr. Donna M. Fick, R.N., associate professor of nursing at Penn State.  “Many drugs, like diazepam (Valium) and other anti-anxiety drugs build up fast.”

An online article on titled “Drugs and the Elderly” talks about physical symptoms and medications:
Among the first signs that a drug may not be working properly in an older person is a change in mood, energy, attitude, or memory.  Too often, these alterations are overlooked, ignored, or chalked off to “old age” or senility.  Older people may themselves feel that their blue mood is caused by something external, such as the death of a friend or simply by boredom.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Virtually every heart medication, blood pressure drug, sleeping pill, and tranquilizer has been known to trigger depressive symptoms.

When a psychological symptom appears in an older person, examine his or her medication or drug use first.  Consider, too, factors like alcohol intake, poor nutrition, and hormone imbalance.  And never dismiss the possibility that a real psychological problem has developed and may itself require medication.

There are many things family members can do to help monitor medications for their elderly parents:
have a list of all medicines prescribed and all supplements being taken;

  • give a list to the doctor and pharmacist and have one on hand for emergencies;
  • have the same pharmacy fill all prescriptions
  • keep pills in a daily pill box organizer;
  • have a family member who is responsible for physically monitoring the taking of medication;

Family members who live long distances from their elders have available to them new technology in medication monitoring:

  • alarms for pill boxes, watch alarms, medical alarm bands and necklaces that ring a reminder;
  • computerized pill box dispensers that ring a designated number if the pills have not been taken
  • home care agencies offer a variety of service options and may help with medication management

Overmedication or taking medication incorrectly may lead to early mental confusion and decline in health in seniors.  If medication problems were ranked as a disease in cause of death, it would be the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.  (From an article on LongTermLiving).

Puzzle Smooth If you have any questions or concerns about protecting your loved one please contact Legacy Law Firm, LLC.  The firm is located in Sandwich, Illinois and focuses on elder law and Life Care Planning for clients.  The office may be reached by calling 815-570-2334 or email at
LEGACY LAW FIRM, LLC:  Helping your family build a lasting legacy from one generation to the next.


Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Medication Problems and the Elderly
 at weeklylaw.


%d bloggers like this: