Healthy Aging

DON’T Just Take 2 of These: Questioning Your Doc Could Save Your Life


When the doctor hands you a prescription, how often do you ask: “What is this medication? What are the side effects? Is it OK to take at my age?”

If like many older people your answer is rarely – or even, never – now might be a good time for a rethink.

A new study suggests that if you aren’t asking these questions, particularly “Is it OK to take at my age,” you could be putting yourself in danger.

Potentially Inappropriate Medications

Medication mistakes among people over age 65 cost the US upwards of $21 billion a year – more than $4 billion for preventable mishaps – and cause almost 100,000 hospitalizations annually.

The study, from the Thomas Jefferson University School of Population Health in Philadelphia, focused on what would happen if doctors reduced inappropriate prescriptions for seniors. Collaborating with colleagues from Italy (where there’s universal healthcare and virtually all drugs are prescribed), researchers conducted a three-year study among general practitioners in Parma, who collectively treat as many as 100,000 patients over age 65. Once the GPs were educated about potentially inappropriate medications, the number of prescriptions and patients exposed to the drugs fell by nearly one-third during the study, compared to another region where doctors weren’t given this information.

Translate these results to the US, where the over-65 population in 2010 was 40 million, “just a 10 percent reduction PIM [potentially inappropriate medication] use could potentially affect four to five million people,” speculates study co-author Scott W. Keith, PhD, an assistant professor of biostatistics at Thomas Jefferson.

How to Be a Questioner

While this study was aimed at doctors, there’s also a lesson here for patients: Be aware of PIMs.

  • Ask if your doctor is aware of the “Beers Criteria,” a list of 23 potentially inappropriate medications for people over 65, updated in 2012.
  • Ask about both the generic and brand names of the drug you’re being prescribed, Dr. Keith advises. “Many people are prescribed brand names but may end up with generics or shop by price for generics.”
  • Also ask your physician (and pharmacist) about potential interactions with other prescription medications – and with OTC drugs and supplements.

Click here to read more about the study.

For more information on the effects of medications after age 65, see “Your Meds Might Be Making You Sick,”


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