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Doctors must consider potentially inappropriate medications when treating elderly

Just as our bodies physically slow down as we age, changes occur in the way that older bodies handle pharmaceuticals, and prescribing physicians need to be aware of those medications inappropriate for the elderly.

"With age, drugs tend to build up in the body, and the distribution and elimination of drugs from the body changes as well," says Dr. Donna M. Fick, R.N., associate professor of nursing at Penn State. "Many drugs, like diazepam (Valium) and other anti-anxiety drugs build up fast."

Also, doctors may not know all the prescriptions, let alone over the counter, drugs that elderly patients are taking. "Sometimes someone is started on a drug in their 50s, but 20 years later, it has not been reevaluated," says Fick. "Some drugs are fine at 55 but not OK at 75. However, sometimes doctors have tried everything else and this drug with negative implications for the elderly is the only one that works. It is a complicated issue that requires all health professionals to communicate better and work together."

The researchers want to see physicians reevaluate the drugs their elderly patients take to determine if they are appropriate, if alternative drugs would be better or if dosages should be adjusted. They reported their findings in a recent issue of the American Journal of Managed Care.

Fick, working with Nancy A. Rodriguez, Louise Short and Richard Vanden Heuvel, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia; Jennifer L. Waller; and J. Ross Maclean, Medical College of Georgia; and Rebecca L. Rodgers, Augusta State University, tested a method to alert physicians to possibly inappropriate prescriptions. Fick was at the Medical College of Georgia when this work was done.

The researchers divided primary care physicians in Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia's senior plans between a treatment and control group and sent all of doctors a packet of information on prescribing for the elderly. The packet included an educational letter, the brochure,
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Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
6-Jan-2005


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