Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is Your Parent Over-medicated?

Overmedication and adverse interaction of drugs are a common problem for older people.Older adults may not need the same dose of medication they have taken for many years due to changes in the body. For example, the body rids of many medications through the kidneys, but kidney function decreases with age. The medication dose does not leave the bloodstream at the same rate, so the blood levels can creep upward, resulting in over-medication.

Also, many drugs have interactions with food or other drugs in older people that would not occur in younger persons. And, prescription drugs can interact with over-the-counter medications to create a serious health problem.

Problems with medication can occur because the patient lacks adequate information to make informed choices about their schedule for taking presciption drugs, or over-the-counter medications. Patients do not always receive adequate information about drug interactions, and patients often do not ask enough questions about side effects or interactions which may occur.

Overmedication can occur when several physicians prescribe drugs for a patient, and are unaware of other medications the patient is taking. Problems can also arise when there is no system in place to ensure that medications are taken as prescribed.

Possible side effects of overmedication may include:

Slowed reaction: speech, movement and thought
Increased confusion
Unsteady gait
Dry mouth
Blurry vision
Increased agitation
Uncontrollable repetitive movement of the tongue, feet, hands and trunk

If you notice any of these changes, or changes in the overall well-being
of your parent, you may want to suggest that they schedule an appointment with their doctor. In order for this appointment to be successful, your parent should take with them a list of all drugs — prescribed and over-the-counter — they are currently taking.

The pharmacist is also an excellent source of information about drugs and should be consulted as well as the physician. A pharmacist can discuss not only possible interactions and problems with a medication, but suggest strategies for managing medication as well. Your pharmacist can advise you and your parent if a visit to the physician and a review of medication is needed.


1. Help your parent make a list of prescriptions and over-the-counter medications they are currently taking. Go through their medicine cabinet and kitchen shelves with your parents and throw out all outdated prescriptions and medications.

2. Make sure that they are only getting their prescriptions filled at one pharmacy or, if they are using a mail-away service, that anyone filling their prescriptions has the complete list of medications in their file.

3. Remind them to discuss any new prescriptions with their pharmacist to make sure they understand the possible side effects, possible interactions, and that the pharmacist has added it to their file.