Not the kind of beers you're thinking about. I'm talking about Beers Criteria.
Beers Criteria is published by the American Geriatrics Society and lists potentially inappropriate medications for older adults aged 65 and older. It's meant to serve as a guide for medical providers to reference when prescribing drugs for their elderly patients.
Unfortunately, many older folks continue to be prescribed medications that should be avoided (unless there are no other alternatives). An article from Medscape calls the Beers Criteria one of the "best-kept secrets in geriatrics." Physicians report they don't know about it (really?!) or simply choose not to use it (why?!).
There are dozens of different drugs listed in the Beers Criteria including a few common over-the-counter products such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Motrin (ibuprofen). Review all of your medications with your healthcare team and your pharmacist. If you are taking medications that should potentially be avoided, ask if there are alternatives. Never start or stop taking any of your medications without first speaking to your medical providers.
Use this list to keep track of your medications. Bring it with you to every appointment or if you have to be in the hospital. You can also download a free Medications Quick Guide to help you understand more about your meds and how to take them safely.
Keep reading to learn more about medications and their effects on older people.
Medications and Older People
Americans older than 65 take, on average, 5-7 prescription medications every day. And that's on top of over-the-counter drugs, herbals, vitamins, and supplements.
As we age, the risk of adverse effects from medications significantly increases. This is due to several factors:
- Our bodies metabolize medications differently. This means that older people may need lower doses of certain drugs. Or some medications useful for younger adults may be harmful in the elderly.
- Being on multiple medications increases the risk of 'drug-drug' interactions (when two or more drugs behave badly with each other). These interactions may lead to unexpected, and potentially dangerous, side effects. For example, you may take aspirin for a headache at the same time you're taking Coumadin (a blood thinner) for a heart condition. These two medications, taken together, may increase the risk of bleeding.
- Lack of communication among healthcare providers increases the chance of medication duplication. For example, one doctor may prescribe the blood pressure medication Lopressor (brand name) and another provider orders metoprolol (generic). They are the same medication but you may not know this. And if you use different pharmacies to fill the prescription, the duplication may never get noticed.
- Older patients (and younger ones!) don't always understand what their medications are for or how to take them safely.
This is why it's so important to talk to your provider and pharmacist about your meds. Have them explain each one and tell you how to take them safely.
Medical errors are a big deal. They kill 250,000 Americans every year. Medication errors account for roughly 7,000-9,000 of these deaths. And hundreds of thousands of patients experience serious adverse effects and complications from their medications.
Being on multiple medications, like many older adults are, significantly increases the chances of suffering from a medication error. So does having uncoordinated care and providers who don't communicate with each other.
You can help prevent errors by taking an active role in your health. Learn all you can about your conditions, treatments and medications. Use checklists when you talk to your providers or have to be in the hospital. And don't be afraid to ask lots of questions.
- If you're 65 or older, ask your provider if Beers Criteria was used when prescribing your medications.
- Go over your medication list with your provider (and pharmacist). If you're taking medications that should potentially be avoided, ask if there are alternatives.
- Older people may experience more adverse side effects of medications. This is due to the way our bodies metabolize medications as we age and the fact that many older people take multiple drugs.
- Always keep your medication list updated. Bring it with you to every appointment or if you have to be in the hospital.
- Never start, or stop, taking any medications without first speaking to your medical provider.
I hope this has helped you understand a little more about your medications and how important it is for providers to use Beers Criteria when prescribing for older adults.
It's your health. Take control.
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