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Many older adults say they are motivated to cut down on their prescription medications to avoid future side effects — if their physicians suggest they do so, according to a new survey.

Polypharmacy is common in older adults, with 36% of those aged 65 and older taking at least five concurrent medications. Fully 1 in 5 of these drugs taken may be inappropriate, the researchers reported Monday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.  

However, efforts to reduce unnecessary prescribing in the United States have been “suboptimal,” the researchers said. The new survey sought to determine how senior patients’ health priorities influence their willingness to work with their doctors to discontinue current medications.

The survey polled more than 800 older adults between March and April 2020. Most of those surveyed said they were willing to deprescribe if their doctors recommended it. In addition, more respondents (60%) said they would stop preventive medicines as compared with symptom-relief medicines (33%), but many were willing to stop both, investigators reported.

Fewer meds a priority

Fully one third prioritized taking fewer medicines despite the potential for occasional symptoms or a shorter lifespan, they found. And these respondents were often the ones who were willing to stop both medication classes.

In contrast, respondents who prioritized feeling better now were less willing to stop their symptom-relief medications. Notably, study participants who currently or previously had taken statins were less willing to stop preventive medicines. Nearly 60% had taken a statin and 15% had used a prescription sedative-hypnotic.

Patients ready to talk

The results suggest an opportunity for clinicians to talk to patients about deprescribing, the authors wrote. Seniors’ health priorities are closely aligned with their readiness to deprescribe potentially unnecessary medications, they explained.

“Clinicians should also be attuned to recognize and act on cues that patients may be interested in deprescribing, such as comments about the inconvenience, potential adverse effects or costs of taking medications,” they noted.

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