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Taking Medicines Safely for Older Adults

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • As we get older, gastrointestinal blood flow decreases, and there is a decline in digestive enzyme production. However, fatty tissue proportions in the body increase and, as a result, certain types of medication that tend to concentrate in fatty tissues remain in the body for longer periods of time and have longer-lasting effects.
  • Senior citizens should not buy their own medications, as these may conflict with other drugs they are taking, potentially causing severe damage or side effects.

As you get older, there are a number of health issues that tend to come with that increased age—illnesses seem to be more frequent, more severe, and often more chronic as well. All of these mean that there will often be an unavoidable need for multiple medications, often taken simultaneously. Senior citizens often worry about the effects of this, and thus sometimes stop taking medications altogether, fearing that too many chemicals entering their body for too long will cause more harm than good.

The use of medications in the elderly is more sensitive than in those of the general population as, with age, the body changes the way it responds to medicines. As we get older, drugs are absorbed and metabolized by the body more slowly than when we were younger. This can be due to reduced gastrointestinal blood flow, as well as a decline in digestive enzyme production. Additionally, aging is accompanied by an increase in fatty tissue proportions in the body. As a result, certain types of sleeping pills that are likely to concentrate in fatty tissues, such as diazepam, remain in the body for longer periods of time and have longer-lasting effects.

It has been found that the organs naturally degenerate with age, resulting in a decrease in liver mass and liver blood flow, a reduced amount and ability of liver enzymes in drug metabolism, a decreased number of filtering units (nephrons) in the kidneys, as well as a reduced supply of blood to the kidneys. This, in turn, results in medications higher levels of medication remaining in the blood. Therefore, drug usage and dosage in elderly patients must be adjusted to suit the physical condition of the individual, and this must be done under the supervision of a physician and pharmacist for maximum safety.

Safe Use of Medication in the Elderly Includes:

  • Only use medications strictly as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Do not increase or reduce medication dosages on your own.
  • Have regular checkups in order to monitor drug response and liver and kidney functions so that adjustments can be made accordingly.
  • Do not buy your own medications, as these may conflict with other drugs you are taking, which could cause severe damage or side effects.

Supplements or herbal medicines are another factor that can affect medication usage. Make sure you inform your doctor if you are taking any types of supplements or herbal medicines and closely follow the advice of your doctor and pharmacist. Finally, whether you are getting older or have health problems that make it necessary to take several types of medications a day, as long as you don’t skip or overdo your dosages, and the treatment is monitored with regular check-ups, you can remain healthy as you age. It is most effective, however, if you take care of your healthy throughout your life-time, so start sooner than later.


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Tippapa Chutikankosol, M.D. Summary: Geriatric Medicine