A Senior’s Guide to Prescription Medications

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With the rising cost of health care and deteriorating economy, concerns about medical services and insurance for the elderly seem more pressing than ever. According to information released recently by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, drugs prescribed to senior citizens fall into five broad categories. In one year alone, seniors spent approximately $82 billion dollars for medications. That figure continues to escalate as the price of the medications and the number of prescriptions grow.

Top Five Ailments that Affect Seniors and Cause Use of Medical Prescriptions
• Metabolic drugs, used to manage diabetes, weight problems, thyroid disorders, and cholesterol levels topped the list at a cost of around $18 billion.
• Cardiovascular medications, at $15 billion, were second. These included everything from prescriptions for diuretics and high blood pressure to drugs used to control issues with irregular heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation, and congestive heart failure.
• Central nervous system drugs prescribed for arthritis and other types of pain control totaled $8 billion.
• Gastrointestinal medications, used to treat nausea, diarrhea, ulcers, acid, and other stomach and bowel disorders, cost approximately $7 billion.
• Hormones, used to treat prostate and breast cancer, osteoporosis and other conditions in the elderly, cost almost $5 billion.

Expense is not the only problem encountered by senior citizens when it comes to medications. Although people over 65 make up less than 14 percent of the US population, they fill almost 1/3 of all the prescriptions. Seniors are likely to have more ailments than the general population and, therefore, more likely to take a combination of medications. The greater the number of drugs ingested, whether prescribed, holistic, or over-the-counter, the greater the chances of adverse reactions. Because the body’s sensitivity increases with age, drugs may take longer to leave the system and require less frequent or lower dosages, as well.

As age increases so do the chances of memory loss and impaired brain functions. Vascular dementia, depression, and Alzheimer’s not only pose risks of their own, but they make it more difficult for seniors to take care of themselves. Medications for vascular disorders may prevent further damage in the case of dementia, and some drugs help to slow the escalation of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Depression and anxiety can be more easily treated and are often helped by antidepressants and sedatives. However, medications that are helpful for any particular type of dementia may carry risks of its own. Having additional medical insurance, especially the type specially designed for retirees, assists in controlling expenses for seniors on many medications.

The growing range of options for treating illnesses in the over-65 population offers hope to senior citizens and their caretakers. However, the answers are not clear-cut, and making appropriate decisions requires both good information and clear minds. Fortunately, with appropriate medical care and proper supervision, the chances for living a long and healthy life become increasingly greater.

By: Jeremy Smith

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