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Overmedication imperils seniors, studies say

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The overmedication of America’s seniors is both widespread and often deadly, a growing collection of research and government reports show.

Across all ages, the number of people treated in U.S. hospitals for illness and injuries from taking medicines jumped 52 percent to nearly 2 million overall, according to an April report from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

But that report and another released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in March noted that 53 percent of those hospitalized for adverse reactions or other problems with medications were 65 or older, as were nearly 62 percent of those seen at emergency rooms.

The two reports use different surveillance systems, one tracking most hospital admissions, the other a select network of emergency departments around the country. But they send similar messages about the risks older people face from side effects, which often worsen due to weight changes or other physical shifts during aging, and concurrent use of many drugs.

The SAMSHA study found that nearly 80 percent of the hospital visits by patients 50 and older involved adverse reactions to a single drug, with narcotics and nonnarcotic pain relievers responsible for nearly a quarter of the trips. But tranquilizers, anti-depressants, psychotherapeutic drugs, blood thinners and other drugs to prevent heart disease and stroke were also frequently blamed.

A third study, published online in February in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, took a closer look at the experiences of 1,000 Canadian ER patients of all ages, including 122 who came in due to an adverse drug event.

Research indicates that seniors in their 60s typically take an average of seven different medications a day; by the time they reach their 80s, the average nearly doubles.

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