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Medicating the Elderly: Trends, Impact & Consequences

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  • 0:01 Medication & Trends
  • 2:14 Elderly & Medication
  • 4:25 Medication & the Body
  • 6:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

We will discuss how medication use increases in most elderly and why certain elderly may refuse to take their medication. In addition, we will discuss certain issues with medication and the elderly, such as metabolizing, effect and administration.

Medication and Trends

We live in a pill-based society. Pain? Take a pill. Upset stomach? Take a pill. Sad? Take a pill. Nearly everything can be treated by the panacea of the pill. But - because there's always a but - as we age, the miracle of the pill can become a bit more dangerous.

We all know that as we get older, parts of the body start acting up (like the mysterious lumbago). In addition, we have all seen the commercials for medication where the side effects take up half the allotted time. 'Side effects include: dry mouth, sweating, hair loss, monkey tail disorder, death and reversal of death.'

To discuss the trends in the elderly, first we need to frame it in a broader understanding. Overall, medication spending has increased six times from 1990 to 2008. That is from $40 billion to $234 billion, to put a number on it. Billion, with a B. Compared to all other medical expenses, medication is the fastest growing expenditure.

When we look at just the elderly, more than 75% of elderly individuals take two or more prescriptions regularly, based on a 2008 study. That's more elderly people taking medication, like diuretics and beta-blockers for high blood pressure and heart disease and various cholesterol-lowering medications. In fact, nearly half of all elderly surveyed took cholesterol medication of some kind.

Looking a little deeper at the findings, we can find that approximately 37% of older individuals consume five or more medications regularly. That's a lot of medicine, and when you combine it with the growing cost, it is frightening how much can be spent on medicine each year. All of this combines to show that the elderly use a larger amount of medication than all other ages.

Let's look at some of the issues with the elderly population consuming so much medicine.

Elderly and Medication

It is no secret that many elderly end up in homes or care facilities. A fully grown adult is difficult to help when they can't take care of themselves. In these care facilities, they can be prescribed medication for any number of things. However, they have a fancy term for individuals who don't take their medication. Noncompliance means an individual refuses to take their medication. Why might someone refuse to take their medication?

For one thing, as we discussed earlier, individuals are prone to suffering more side effects as they age, which are unintentional symptoms resulting from medication use. This can be diarrhea, cotton mouth or possibly worse symptoms.

What's more, there can be interactions, which are when multiple medications' active and inactive ingredients cross react. An easy to understand example of an interaction is taking a sleeping medication and alcohol. If sleeping medication makes you tired and alcohol makes you a little tired, the two should just make you very tired, right? Wrong. They can kill you. The two have a synergistic effect, where instead of just adding to each other, they multiply each other's strengths. Other medications can interact as well and sometimes in unique and horrible ways. Some can be as simple as nausea, some can cause unsafe drops in blood pressure and some can cause death.

Our elderly person, who is living in a care facility, likely has multiple illnesses because the body's natural defenses deteriorate over time. They can be prescribed multiple medications but refuse to take any more because they make them feel nauseous and dizzy due to the side effects and interactions. The staff note the elderly is noncompliant with medication, effectively labeling this individual as a troublemaker. However, since the person is not taking their medicine, they will continue to get sicker. It's a true Catch-22.

Medication and the Body

Medication works in a number of ways, but all of them work inside the body. As we age, there are certain changes that occur to the body. This means there will be certain changes that occur in how medication works.

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