Although some drugs help many seniors live more comfortably and longer, multiple studies show the risks associated with unnecessary medications. With so many drugs now available, in our urgency to treat, we may create unintended consequences: society’s “pill-for-every-ill” attitude often results in more, rather than fewer, problems—in conflict with an important principle of medicine: “First, do no harm”.
How then does a senior decide what’s really necessary? Hopefully, the following goal-focused guide may be helpful:
List your health problems and the treatments you receive for each.
Determine the prognosis [likely outcomes] for each problem: if any are ‘life-limiting’ (meaning they eventually cause death if something else doesn’t happen first—examples are Alzheimer’s, some cancers, heart failure), then what’s the life expectancy for each [ask your doctor; and ‘google it’ – for example, type in “what’s the prognosis for heart failure”].
Based on your values, decide what your healthcare goal is: is it comfort or longevity. In other words, do you want to live as long as you can naturally and then, when necessary, take only medicine that helps you stay comfortable, or, do you want to be kept alive to the point of living on a respirator, dialysis, or a feeding tube, regardless of your chances of ever getting better.
Once your goals are clear, look at each drug and with your doctor decide if that medicine will really help you achieve the goal: if it won’t, then stop it. If you’re not sure, stop it for a month and see how you feel – you can always resume it.