At least one in 10 elderly people is prescribed a drug that they shouldn't be taking, and the true picture may easily be twice as bad. Worse, many of the drugs that are being inappropriately prescribed have a high chance of causing a side effect.
This worrying picture has emerged from a study into drug prescribing for the elderly, based on data from a health insurer in the USA. It included the medical records of over 760,000 people aged over 65 years who were not in hospital.
Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina compared prescription records with a list known as Beers, which itemizes those drugs generally believed to commonly cause side effects in the elderly, and so which should be avoided.
They found that 21 per cent of patients had been prescribed one or more drugs on the Beers list, and prescriptions for amitriptyline and doxepin accounted for 23 per cent of these.
More than 15 per cent of prescriptions were for two drugs on the list, and 4 per cent for three or more drugs on Beers.
An accompanying editorial commented: "If even half the number of elderly subjects is taking potentially inappropriate medications, one in 10 of all older persons are receiving a drug that is potentially not appropriate."