It’s unusual nowadays to reach your seventies without taking at least one prescribed medication on a regular basis, and one tends to lead to another.
‘Polypharmacy’ is the word used to describe reliance on five or more drugs. But as we get older, our ability to metabolise these medications is reduced, so the dosage should be reviewed regularly.
And many experts are suggesting that for a lot of elderly people, the harms of polypharmacy may outweigh the benefits.
Studies have shown that older people on multiple drugs tend to walk more slowly and are more likely to be overweight. They perform less well in cognitive tests, fall asleep more often during the day, and are more at risk of falling. Even when you correct for the health problems that led them to take the drugs in the first place – heart disease, diabetes or high cholesterol, for example – it seems that the drugs themselves, while they may correct specific symptoms, do not enhance the patient’s wellbeing.
Every GP can tell stories of dealing with confused elderly people who appear to be suffering from dementia; but when they are taken off the medications, they recover. Sometimes an illness, a fall or a shock of some sort can precipitate a crisis like this, but often it is just a slow drift into toxic overload. So be mindful, on your own behalf or on behalf of your loved ones.