When Patricia Corrigan came down with a bacterial sinus infection, she was given a strong antibiotic—one that she’d successfully taken a few times before when she was younger. About four days into her medication regimen, she was awakened by pain in her Achilles tendon. Through her research, she discovered that the drug she had been prescribed shouldn’t be given to anyone over 60, which Patricia was. Her doctor quickly advised her to stop taking the medicine when she explained the side effect she experienced.
When you head to the pharmacy to fill a prescription—especially if it’s one you have taken long term—you probably assume that medicine is safe for you. Your doctor prescribed it for you, after all.
However, as you age your prescribing needs could change, pharmacists note. That’s because as your body ages, it absorbs medicines differently, which means certain prescriptions may cause more or more severe drug side effects than they would in a younger person.
And with the lack of geriatricians—only about 7,500 to every 46 million adults 65 and older—prescribing issues could become a problem. What can you do? Educate yourself on medications to avoid for older adults. Here are a few.
5 Medications to avoid for older adults
NSAIDs: These over-the-counter and prescription drugs are often used to reduce fever, pain and inflammation.
Why you should avoid: Long-term use of NSAIDS can increase your risk of developing bleeding stomach ulcers. They may also increase your blood pressure or worsen heart failure. What should you do instead? Talk to your healthcare provider about using alternative pain relievers and alternative methods of pain relief like physical therapy.
Muscle Relaxants: These medicines can help reduce pain from muscle spasms and injury.
Why you should avoid: A common drug side effect of muscle relaxants is grogginess, which can increase your risk of falls. They can also cause dry mouth, constipation and problems urinating.
Sedatives: Commonly known as benzodiazepines, these medications are usually prescribed for anxiety disorders and insomnia.
Why you should avoid: Like muscle relaxants, sedatives can cause drowsiness and disorientation, which can increase your risk for falls. It can also take your body longer to get rid of this medication, which means the side effects can last into the following day.
Anticholinergic Drugs: Like amitriptyline (Elavil) and imipramine (Tofranil), anti-Parkinson drug trihexyphenidyl (Artane) or irritable bowel syndrome drug dicyclomine (Bentyl) or over-the-counter drugs like Benadryl, Tylenol PM or Unisom.
Why you should avoid: These drugs can cause confusion and blurry vision, which can increase your risk of falling.
Sleeping pills: Like Ambien or Lunesta.
Why you should avoid: Though some older adults can have trouble sleeping, avoid using sleeping pills because, like anticholinergic drugs, sleep aids can cause confusion and blurry vision. They can also cause unsafe sleep behaviors like sleepwalking or driving while not fully awake.
How to Stay Safe
What can you do to stay safe when taking a medication? Corrigan recommends reading the insert that comes with your medication, especially the side effects list. If you have concerns or questions about the list of side effects, talk to your pharmacist. Or, better yet, Corrigan says, take advantage of the consultation offered by the pharmacy when you pick up a prescription.
Also, keep your doctor abreast of all the medications you’re taking, even over-the-counter supplements or vitamins.