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Overmedication May Be Bad News

More is not always better when it comes to medication. In fact, overmedication can cause unnecessary health problems.

The Early Show talk with Dr. Stacie Pinderhughes of the Mount Sinai/New York University Healthcare System on tips to avoid using too much medication.

An average adult 65 or older regularly takes over five prescription medications and two over-the-counter medications.

A survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year found that 81 percent of adults took at least one prescription or over-the-counter drug a week. As many as 25 percent took at least five different drugs. Experts agree that overmedicated adults are not uncommon.

To prevent overmedication, Dr. Pinderhughes recommends the following:

Keep Doctors Informed

Poor communication is the number one reason patients become overmedicated. By the time an average adult reaches 75, he has three chronic medical conditions. Usually, that means he is under the care of at least three different doctors.

Each doctor is handling a specific problem but no physician is overseeing the person's total care. Keep doctors informed of all the medications being taken and mention these pills when visiting any other doctor. This type of communication sounds like it would be common sense to implement but it just doesn't happen.

"You would be surprised," Dr. Pinderhughes said. "People get intimidated by doctors and simply don't speak up. Other times, they just don't think about it."

Treat Non-Prescription Drugs Seriously

When sharing your drug history with doctors, don't forget to mention over-the-counter medications as well as any herbal supplements such as St. John's Wort that you are taking regularly. People often assume that because these items can be taken without a prescription they are not potent enough to mention. It is not true.

"They are just like medications because you ingest them into your body and they are broken down by your liver," Dr. Pinderhughes said.

Armed with the knowledge that a patient is taking supplements, the doctor will be able to keep an eye out for any problems and pin these complications to a possible interaction.

Don't Discount Side Effects

Dr. Pinderhughes said it is not unusual for patients to experience side effects from a medication or from an interaction between two medications. However, people tend to ignore these feelings. They blame their dizziness or restlessness or stomach pains on old age.

Dr. Pinderhughes says that these are not normal feelings of aging. Often, patients will ignore side effects for so long that it becomes hard to pinpoint the medication as the cause of the symptoms. Doctors prescribe more medication to treat these symptoms when the patient only needed to stop, change or decrease the original drug. Suddenly, the patient is overmedicated.

Question Dosage

A dose of medication that may be appropriate for a younger person can be too strong for a senior. Older adults metabolize drugs much more slowly than younger adults do so the drug stays in the body longer. Also, bodies become more sensitive to medicine as they age, making them more susceptible to adverse reactions.

Organize Medications

A pillbox with sections for each day of the week could be a solution to remembering one's regimen of ingesting medication. Getting a family member involved in daily pill routine can also help.

All of the above tips can help keep medication under control. To keep spouse or parents medication in check, experts recommend observing the amount and what type of pills someone is taking or see if there are any unusual physical symptoms. Family members should also call internist or geriatrician to keep the doctors in the loop. Some may want to attend doctor appointments with spouses.

Communication is the key to avoiding problems with overmedication.

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