Age can play a role in how your body handles medicines. Older adults are more prone to drug interactions and side effects. They have more risk of becoming confused, lightheaded, or falling. This can lead to breaking a hip or other bone. Medicine-related problems in older adults can often be prevented.
As you age and develop health problems, you may see more doctors. This can lead to multiple medicines from different doctors. Your doctors may not be aware of all the medicines you are taking.
List of Inappropriate Drugs
The American Geriatric Society has a list of drugs that may not be right for people aged 65 years and older. For these drugs, the risk to older adults may outweigh the benefits.
Here are the top 10 medicines that can be harmful:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—to ease pain and inflammation
- Digoxin, used to treat heart failure and irregular heartbeats
- Certain diabetes drugs, such as glyburide
- Muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine
- Certain anxiety and/or insomnia medicines, such as diazepam and zaleplon
- Certain anticholinergic drugs such as amitriptyline and oxybutynin
- Meperidine, a pain medicine
- Certain over-the-counter products such as diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine
- Antipsychotics—if you are not being treated for psychosis
- Estrogen pills and patches
There may be other drugs that could be harmful. Talk to your doctor. Note: Also, talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medicine.
Reducing the Risk of Medicine Problems
Check with your doctor to make sure you are not taking more medicine than you need. To lower the risk of medicine problems, follow these steps:
- Make a list of all your medicines. If your doctor prescribes a new medicine, update your list. Always bring the list when you are seeing specialists.
- Read and save all the information that comes with your medicines.
- Take medicines exactly as your doctor advises.
- Do not skip doses or take half doses to save money. If you need help paying for your medicines, talk to your doctor.
- Use a memory aid to help you remember when to take your medicine. Examples are a calendar, chart, weekly pill box, or smart phone alert.
- Do not mix alcohol and medicines.
- Do not take medicines prescribed to another person. And do not share your medicines.
- Check the expiration dates on your medicines. Get rid of expired medicines properly.
- Store all medicines safely out of reach of young children.
Talk to Your Doctor
Review your medicines with your doctor at least once a year. Do this when medicines are changed, also. Write down a complete list or bring all your medicines into the office. Include those that you only take once in a while.
Ask questions. Ask if you still need all your medicines and how they may interact. Make sure you understand the dose, frequency, and purpose of all your medicines. Also ask about non-drug options.
Administration for Community Living—US Department of Health and Human Services
National Council on Aging
Public Health Agency of Canada
By the 2019 American Geriatrics Society Beers Criteria® Update Expert Panel. American Geriatrics Society 2019 Updated AGS Beers Criteria® for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2019 67(4):674-694.
Safe use of medicines for older adults. National Institutes of Health National Institute on Aging website. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/safe-use-medicines-older-adults. Accessed October 19, 2021.
Ten medications older adults should avoid or use with caution. American Geriatrics Association website. Available at: https://www.healthinaging.org/tools-and-tips/tip-sheet-ten-medications-older-adults-should-avoid-or-use-caution. Accessed October 19, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 10/19/2021