Polypharmacy II

This is #2 in the series about why we should be concerned with seniors taking so many pills.  Today it’s:  What’s Polypharmacy and why seniors need to be treated differently.


Polypharmacy is defined as the use of multiple medications or the administration of more than are clinically indicated; some authorities define it as when more than four drugs are taken.

Research reports seniors feel better and live longer when on fewer drugs.  Although drugs have helped many patients, taking too many produces more side-effects and fewer benefits. Over 500 studies support this and the following is a sample of concerns:

• Polypharmacy increases the risk of needing a nursing home, more difficulty walking, more illnesses and hospitalizations, and dying sooner than expected.
• When those over 80 years of age have a drug reaction, 25% will need admission to hospital.
• Up to 52% of seniors take at least one Potentially Inappropriate Medication [PIM] (see below).
• 71% of Adverse Drug Reactions [ADR are side-effects] are potentially avoidable.  The following factors increase this risk:

1) Having over five chronic conditions (diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, etc);
2) Taking more than 12 doses of drugs each day;
3) More drugs means more risk – on 2 meds, there’s a 6% risk; on 5, it’s 50%; and on 8 meds, 100% will have an ADR!
4) A history of a previous reaction; or, being underweight, over age 85, or having chronic kidney disease.

Seniors are not simply ‘older’ adults.  As we age, our metabolism changes, altering the drugs’ effects.  It is inappropriate to apply drug research done on middle-aged people to elders, because seniors have more  drug-related problems—such as falls/fractures, confusion, delirium, and malaise [“don’t feel good”].

Next:  #3.  Drugs to avoid:  Beer’s List of Potentially Inappropriate Medications [PIM’s].