With antiplatelet or blood thinning drugs, bleeding was the main problem. For insulin and other diabetes medications, about two-thirds of cases involved changes in mental status such as confusion, loss of consciousness or seizures.
"These are important findings," said Dr. Michael Steinman, an associate professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, who is familiar with the research. "This study highlights a few key issues that are important for doctors and patients to be aware of. The first is that serious adverse reactions to drugs are common among older people, particularly among people over 80. But even those 65 and older are at substantial risk of having an adverse effect from their drugs."
One challenge for doctors and patients is that the medications may be necessary, Budnitz said.
"These are often critical medicines for patients' health," he said. "Patients who are on these medicines should tell all their doctors what they are taking and work together with their doctors and pharmacist to make sure that they are taking these medicines correctly."
Among U.S. adults aged 65 and up, 40 percent take five to nine medications and 18 percent take 10 or more, according to the study authors. Prior research has also found that older adults are nearly seven times more likely than younger people to have an adverse drug event that requires hospitalization. "As most people age, there often are changes in how their kidneys, liver, heart, and other organs work that can make them more susceptible to adverse drug events," Budnitz said.
And though taking lots of pills raises safety issues, in 82 percent of cases the treating physician attributed the overdose to a single drug, Budnitz added.
To reduce risks, Steinman said doctors and patients need to discuss whether the drug is truly necessary. Fo
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