Older Adults and Medicine use

Important facts to know

As we age, our bodies change. If you are caring for an older adult, you also may have noticed the effects of aging in that person: aches and pains may linger and simple movements like walking or getting out of a chair may be slower or more painful than they used to be.

Medicines may affect you differently as you age because your body processes them differently. You may take more medicines now than when you were younger. Even medicine that you’ve taken before or have taken consistently may act differently in your body as you age. Medicines now may require more monitoring or dosage adjustments. While medicines are an important and often necessary tool for living well life as we age, there can be risks associated with using all medicines, especially for older adults. Learn more here about why and how medicines can affect you differently as you age and what you can do to safely reduce the risks.

10 Important Facts to Know

  1. Older adults use more medicines—prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) and supplements—than any other age group in the U.S.
  2. Older adults often use multiple medicines increasing the risk of drug interactions.
  3. Your liver and kidneys may not work as well as when you were younger. This decreased function can affect the way a medicine works, is absorbed, broken down and removed from the body.
  4. Medicines may stay in the body longer and cause more severe side effects if doses are not properly adjusted.
  5. Age-related changes to the body such as weight loss, decreased body fluid and increased fatty tissue can alter the way drugs are distributed and concentrated in the body.
  6. Increased sensitivity to many medicines is more common in older adults.
  7. Impaired memory and hearing and vision loss can make it more difficult to understand and remember medicine instructions, especially for those who have complicated treatment regimens.
  8. Older patients tend to receive prescriptions from different healthcare professionals. This fact can make it more difficult to track medicines and identify drug interactions, harmful doses, and unnecessary or ineffective medicines.
  9. Chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and cancer, are more common in older adults and often require a more complex medicine management regimen.
  10. Older adults may not follow medication plans because of forgetfulness, bothersome side effects, a perception that the medicine isn’t working, and/or the cost. Not following instructions or treatment plans, associated with medicines is called non-adherence.

Questions to ask your healthcare professional

  1. Do any of my medicines contain acetaminophen?
  2. How much acetaminophen can I safely take?
  3. How long can I use acetaminophen safely?
  4. Does acetaminophen interact with any medication I currently take?
  5. What other pain relief medicines can I safely use?