Elderly women 23% more likely than men to be overprescribed drugs

Women over age 65 have a higher chance of being overprescribed medication than elderly men, according to a new study published Thursday.

The study, conducted by the University of British Columbia, found close to one in three elderly women to be prescribed “potentially inappropriate” drugs, lead researcher Steve Morgan, Ph.D., told CBC News. One in four elderly men received problematic prescriptions.

Taking income, ethnicity and marriage into account, researchers found women to be up to 23% more likely to receive an inappropropriate prescription than men.

The study backs up previous research findings, but has more data than earlier research. That extra data helped eliminate some factors of why women are more likely to be overprescribed, including women living longer than men.

The reasons for the discrepancies are complex, Morgan said, but could include seniors wanting to continue medication they took in their 50s well into their 70s, and doctors overprescribing sleep aids and benzodiazepines to the elderly.

“The older we get the less sleep we need so there is this tendency for people in care homes to think they need to be in bed by 8 p.m… but maybe they should stay up and watch the news or play cards until midnight if they want,” Morgan said.  

Women's faster metabolization of drugs, gender roles and social circumstances may also play a role, according to researcher Cara Tannenbaum, M.D., M.Sc.

“I expect that by empowering women with knowledge about the harms of sleeping pills and other medications, we can help drive decisions to try switching to safer therapies,” Tannenbaum told The Province.

Results of the study appeared online in Age and Ageing.