Senior citizens over 65 represent 13% or 34 million people in the United States. The fastest growing segment in this group are those over 75 years old. Utilizing about 30% of all health care resources, senior citizens have specific medical concerns because of their age.
Normal Aging consists of a gradual decline in bodily functions, a slowing down of cell and tissue activity and response time. Seniors tend to have a harder time with maintaining consistent temperature and with fighting infections. This is most pronounced in the ability to fight cancer cells.
There are four major areas of decline most apparent in the senior population in the United States.
First is the decreased ability to maintain stable blood glucose levels. This means that the older the person, the greater the risk of diabetes or blood sugar- related illnesses.
Second is the increased risk of osteoporosis. Initially the risk is greater in menopausal women but includes both men and women in their seventies.
The third area of concern is high blood pressure and cholesterol. High blood pressure is blood coursing through the arteries at a very fast pace leading to arterial wall damage possibly resulting in heart attacks or strokes, among other things.
The fourth area is the decrease in intellectual function reflected by decreased memory and verbal ability. In the past several decades, significant research in the medical community has shown that these declines can be slowed down or halted. Some studies such as in SCIENCE journal in 1987 showed that diet and exercise can slow, halt and/or reverse seemingly normal changes of aging.
The Nation's Other Drug Problem
By the year 2000, it is predicted that seniors who make up about 13% of the population will be taking close to 50% of all prescription medications. To some medical professionals, this suggests a tremendous misuse of drugs by this group.
Some of this misuse is by physicians unaware of the drug effect on older kidneys and livers, some by mistakes in taking drugs, and some by the interaction of the various prescribed drugs. For instance, incontinence can be caused by diuretics for high blood pressure or congestive heart failure as well as antihistamines and valium. Then, instead of looking for an alternative drug, the person must accept a more limited lifestyle due to the incontinence. Falls and depression can also be related to drug interaction.
Falls are a common problem for seniors. Often they are from an imbalance in equilibrium and decreased vision. And while 33% of all falls are environmental - poor lighting and loose scatter rugs, 50% from a physical condition such as an irregular heart beat, there leaves a segment of falls related to drug-drug interactions. In one study, in cognitively normal subjects, the frequency of falls was 60% grater in benzodiazepine (anti-anxiety and sleep prescriptions) users and 120% greater in users of anti-depressants as compared to non-users.
Here are some things important to know in determining if there may be a drug-drug interaction that you wish to discuss with your physician.
· Drugs that have been taken safely for many years can become problematic at any time.
· Has the new symptom developed since the introduction of a new medication?
· Is the senior using any OTC medications that could be interacting with the prescribed medications?
· Is there a documented need for the drug?
· Could presenting symptoms be the result of side effects from other drugs?
· Is there a better drug, or more natural way to treat this condition?
· Are there any contraindications or problems with other illnesses?
· Does the patient have impaired liver or kidney function?
· What is the smallest dose that will provide the desired effect?
· What other prescriptions and nonprescription drugs is the patient taking?
· Are all these drugs still needed?
· Is the patient eating well?
· Is the patient taking the drug as directed?
· Is the drug producing the desired effect"
· Is it still needed?