Noll Campbell, PharmD

Medications often used by seniors may increase their chances of visiting the emergency department or hospital, according to recently published research.

Anticholinergic drugs, commonly prescribed for chronic conditions such as anxiety, depression, sleep issues and incontinence, are used by up to half of older adults, according to researchers from Indiana University. Many seniors also may be taking two or more of the medications at one time.

The study, published in November in Pharmacotherapy, analyzed prescription data and medical records of more than 3,300 community-dwelling seniors to determine a link between the drugs and use of healthcare services. 

Taking a daily dose of a drug with a mild anticholinergic effect, such as those for hypertension, upped the chance of inpatient admission by 11%. Medications with strong anticholinergic effects, including sleeping pills, increased the likelihood of admission by 33%.

Emergency department and outpatient healthcare visits also increased with anticholinergic use, researchers found.

“This is the first study to  … determine that as burden increases, so does healthcare utilization in the U.S.,” said investigator Noll Campbell, PharmD, with Indiana University. “This new study provides stronger motivation … to take individuals off anticholinergic medications.”