Seniors prescribed twice the mental health drugs as younger adults

Younger adults take fewer drugs but receive mental health care from psychiatrists at about double the rate of older adults.

By Stephen Feller

ANN ARBOR, Mich., July 30 (UPI) -- Older adults are prescribed twice as many mental health drugs as younger adults and get mental health care from psychiatrists at about half the rate of their younger counterparts, according to a new study.

Most older adults take medications for other conditions, increasing the chances of a bad drug interaction, complications which come in addition to side effects of psychotropic medications.


Researchers said that with older adults anti-anxiety drugs such as Valium, Xanax and Ativan carry higher risk of falls, fractures, and increased declines in cognitive abilities, while antidepressants can interact with blood thinners and painkillers to raise blood pressure.

"Our findings suggest that psychotropic medication use is widespread among older adults in outpatient care, at a far higher rate than among younger patients," said Dr. Donovan Maust, a geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Michigan, in a press release. "In many cases, especially for milder depression and anxiety, the safer treatment for older adults who are already taking multiple medications for other conditions might be more therapy-oriented, but very few older adults receive this sort of care."

Researchers reviewed data on 100,661 doctor visits collected between 2007 and 2010 as part of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, considering doctor office visits where patients received a mental health diagnosis, saw a psychiatrist, received psychotherapy, or received a prescription or renewal of a psychotropic medication.


Older adults averaged 63 visits per 100 people for antidepressants and 62 per 100 people for anti-anxiety drugs, as compared with 36 and 29 visits respectively per 100 younger adults. Older adults, however, average only 6.3 visits per year to psychiatrists while younger adults average 12 per year.

"While it's still true that we have patients who are not getting treated for mental health concerns, these data suggest that we also need to be mindful of the possibility of overtreatment, especially given the changing balance of risk and benefit as patients age," said Maust. "Collaborative care efforts in primary care that seek to create structure and support for these patients, along with appropriate reimbursement for this type of service, could be key."

The study is published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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