Medications Used to Treat Atrial Fibrillation May Raise Risk of Falls and Fall-Related Injuries

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

For older adults, fainting and falls are serious health concerns. They can lead to injury, hospitalization, and other severe consequences. Having certain chronic conditions, as well as taking certain medications, can raise your risk of experiencing falls and fall-related injuries.

One condition that contributes to fainting and falls is atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation occurs when the upper (atrial) part of your heart contracts rapidly and irregularly (fibrillates). Atrial fibrillation may be continuous or occasional and is the most common irregular heart rhythm in older adults. It occurs in three to five percent of people over age 65.

To prevent atrial fibrillation symptoms, health professionals may treat patients with medications to control their heart rate or rhythm. However, these medications can potentially raise the risk for falls and fainting, though the connection hasn’t studied significantly in the past.

To learn more, researchers in Denmark designed a study to learn more about the potential risk for falls and fainting among older adults taking medication for atrial fibrillation. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

High Blood Pressure Treatment and Nursing Home Residents

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Although 27 percent of all older adults who live in nursing homes in this country have both high blood pressure and dementia, we don’t have enough research yet to inform healthcare providers about the best way to treat their high blood pressure.

Specifically, we don’t know when the benefits of taking medication to lower blood pressure outweigh the potential risks, especially in older adults who also have moderate to severe dementia and a poor prognosis (the medical term for the likely course of a disease). That’s because clinical trials for high blood pressure treatments typically do not include older adults who have severe chronic illnesses or disabilities.

 A team of researchers designed a study to learn more about the best high blood pressure treatments for older adults who live in nursing homes. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The research team used information from Medicare records. The team identified 255,670 long-term nursing home residents in the United States during 2013 who had high blood pressure. Of these, nearly half had moderate or severe dementia-related difficulties with thinking and decision-making. Slightly more than half of them had no or only mild cognitive impairment. Continue reading

Acetaminophen Safe for Most Older Adults—But May Increase Stroke Risk for Those with Diabetes

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Acetaminophen (otherwise known by brand names such as Tylenol) is one of the most widely used pain relievers. Almost 60 years of widespread use have made acetaminophen a household product. It’s distributed over the counter (OTC) in most countries and judged safe by the scientific community. However, acetaminophen is also one of the most common medications involved in overdoses (the medical term for taking more of a medicine than you should) and is the most common cause of drug-induced liver failure.

Surprisingly, we are only now coming to understand how acetaminophen works—and recent research shows that we may need to develop a better understanding of the need for caution when using acetaminophen, especially when it comes to avoiding some of the risks associated with its use. Past research suggests these can range from increased asthma to interactions with other medications or the risk for developing other health concerns (such as kidney toxicity, bone fractures, or blood cancers).

Another important reason to look more carefully at all medications is that our bodies may react to these treatments differently as we age. Older adults experience physical changes as they age including, for example, reduced muscle mass, more fat tissue, changes in body composition, and less fluid in the body systems. Older people may also have multiple chronic conditions and take several different medications. These issues affect many different body functions, and that can raise your risk of having an unwanted reaction to a medication.

For all these reasons, a team of researchers decided to study the safety of acetaminophen in a nursing home setting. Their study was published 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

Avoiding Dangerous Side Effects of Medications in Nursing Homes

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Experts from the University of Iowa recently published a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society examining the kind of medication errors and side effects that nursing home residents experience. They also looked at staffing and work systems in nursing homes that could affect medication errors and side effects. This is important because more than 1.4 million older adults lived in nursing home facilities as of 2015. Of these, 85 percent were 65-years-old and older and 41 percent were 85-years-of-age or older. In 2014, there were 15,600 nursing homes in the United States.

Older adults who live in nursing homes are at greater risk for injuries related to the medications we might take as we age (these injuries are also known as “adverse drug events”). There is a greater risk for adverse drug events for this population due to age, frailty, disability, and the multiple chronic illnesses we may be managing at any given time. For these illnesses, nursing home residents usually need several medicines, sometimes including riskier medicines like antipsychotics, antidepressants, and antiepileptics.

Some adverse drug events are due to preventable errors. Others are considered “non-preventable” because they can occur even when the medications are correctly given at normal doses. Continue reading