Study: High numbers of doctors prescribe unsafe meds for elderly

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Approximately 70% of physicians have prescribed potentially harmful medications for their elderly patients, according to a new study by Georgia researchers.

Researchers, as a result, are encouraging physicians to re-evaluate the drugs their elderly patients take to determine if they are appropriate, if alternative drugs would be better or if dosages should be adjusted. Some drugs are safe for a 55-year-old but not for a 75-year-old, said Dr. Donna M. Fick, RN, associate professor of nursing at Penn State, formerly of the Medical College of Georgia when the study was conducted.

Certain drugs such as diazepam (Valium) and other anti-anxiety drugs have a tendency to build up in the elderly body because the distribution and elimination of drugs from the body changes as the body ages, Fick said.

Drug interactions and lack of communication between all caregivers are other issues creating unsafe prescribing situations, researchers reported in the American Journal of Managed Care.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia Center for Healthcare Improvement and The Medical College of Georgia funded the study.