For Older Adults with Heart Failure: Can Taking Too Many Medications Reduce the Ability to Perform Daily Activities?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

As we age, we tend to develop a number of chronic health conditions and concerns. Often, managing health problems can mean that older adults may take many different medications. When older adults take five or more medicines (a scenario health experts call “polypharmacy”), it can increase the risk of harmful side effects.

Polypharmacy can contribute to serious problems including falls, disability, and hospitalizations. Taking more than five medications is especially common among older adults with heart failure, which is the leading cause of hospitalization for people age 65 and older. Doctors often prescribe several different drugs to improve heart failure, but this can increase your risk of harmful side effects and interactions between your medications. Older adults who have trouble performing routine daily activities are at a particularly high risk for the negative effects of taking a large number of medications.

In a new study, researchers examined whether limitations in older adults’ abilities to perform their routine daily activities were linked to taking multiple medications for heart failure. They published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Antipsychotic Use in Older Adults After Heart Surgery

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Delirium is the medical term for an abrupt, rapid change in mental function that goes well beyond the typical forgetfulness of aging. Delirium can cause you to become confused, potentially aggressive, agitated, sleepy, and/or inactive. Post-operative delirium can occur after you’ve had an operation, and is the most common complication older adults experience after they have surgery. Older adults are at high risk for post-operative delirium after they have heart surgery.

When older adults have post-operative delirium, they are often given antipsychotic medications (APMs).  However, these drugs are not proven to be effective for treating delirium and may be harmful. Experts suggest that these drugs do not reduce how often or for how long older adults may experience delirium, or how serious the effects of delirium may be.

Additionally, some studies in older adults with dementia have found that APMs may cause heart rhythm problems and other drug-related side effects. Taking these drugs can increase the effects of anesthesia, and can cause stroke, pneumonia, and even death. Older adults who have had heart surgery are more likely to experience these dangerous events.

In a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers looked into the use of APMs in older adults following heart surgery. Continue reading

Are High-Risk Anticholinergic Medicines Prescribed Too Often for Older Adults?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Anticholinergics are a class of medications that are often prescribed for allergies, lung disease, and urinary incontinence. They also often can increase health risks for older adults. These medicines can affect your memory and ability to think, and they can even lead to increases in the risk for falls, dementia, and death. Additionally, older adults often have a difficult time tolerating anticholinergics because of age-related physical changes, such as reduced liver and kidney function, and because medications can impact our brain chemistry more strongly as we age.

Experts use tools to help older adults and healthcare professionals understand the risks associated with medications like anticholinergics. One of these tools is the AGS Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults. The AGS Beers Criteria details medications with risks that may outweigh their benefits for older adults. The AGS Beers Criteria identifies 52 “high-risk” anticholinergics. Thirty-five of these are included on a list of medications worth avoiding altogether for older people, unless a healthcare professional has a compelling reason for prescribing them on a case-by-case basis.

Recently, a team of researchers decided to study how frequently healthcare providers prescribe potentially inappropriate medications like anticholinergics in light of recommendations like those from the AGS Beers Criteria. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Study Finds that Most Older Adults are Aware of Medication Risks

JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Geriatrics experts know that certain medications may have risks for older adults that outweigh their benefits, especially when safer alternatives are available. Medications that could be “potentially inappropriate” for older adults are included on recommendation lists that your healthcare provider can consult, such as the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) Beers Criteria or the STOPP-START list.

However, despite these recommendations, 25 percent of older adults take at least one potentially inappropriate medication every year. Taking these medications can increase the risk of being hospitalized due to a medication-related problem. Although 70 percent of older adults are willing to stop taking certain medications, healthcare providers continue to prescribe some potentially inappropriate medicines to older adults.

Researchers from the Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie in Montréal, Canada, designed a survey to learn about older adults’ awareness of drug-related health risks. They conducted the survey over the telephone with 2,665 participants, aged 65 or older. Continue reading