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More older Americans cutting back on prescription drugs

By Cara Murez, HealthDay News
More than one-third of older adults said they had quit taking a medication they had been using for more than a year without talking first to a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner. Photo by wp paarz/Flickr
More than one-third of older adults said they had quit taking a medication they had been using for more than a year without talking first to a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner. Photo by wp paarz/Flickr

A new study finds that Americans over 50 are interested in cutting back on prescription medications, dovetailing with a movement toward "deprescribing."

About 67% said they would seek their doctor's advice before dropping a pill, according to Michigan Medicine's National Poll on Healthy Aging.

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Yet more than one-third of older adults said they had quit taking a medication they had been using for more than a year without talking first to a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner.

"Deprescribing, which can include prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and dietary supplements, should be based on dialogue between patients and providers, and sometimes family members," said Sarah Vordenberg, a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy who worked on the poll.

About 82% of people between 50 and 80 years of age take at least one prescription medicine regularly, the poll found.

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About 28% think they take too many medicines.

More than half of respondents take three or more prescription medications.

About 11% regularly take three or more over-the-counter medicines. About 38% take three or more vitamins, minerals or supplements, according to the poll.

It was administered online and by phone in January to more than 2,500 adults aged 50 to 80, then weighted to reflect the U.S. population.

"While we found that over 90% of older adults who take at least one prescription medicine expect their provider to review their list of medicines at least annually, research has shown this is often not the case," Vordenberg said in a university news release. "This drives home the importance of comprehensive medication reviews, which can often be billed to insurance by clinics and pharmacies as a separate patient encounter."

Reasons for deprescribing or reducing a medication include resolution of a temporary health condition; potential problems with other medicines; or the overall benefits and risks of taking it have changed.

The authors emphasized that it's important for patients and providers to communicate about deprescribing. Medicare and other insurers offer a comprehensive medication review by a pharmacist or other provider, according to the authors.

About 80% of respondents said they would be open to stopping one or more prescriptions that they have taken for more than a year if a healthcare provider said it was possible. About 26% had already done so over past two years.

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"Another key aspect of deprescribing conversations and comprehensive medication reviews should be cost, because inability to afford medications can lead people to stop taking or alter the dose of medications that are important to their health," poll director Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren said in the release.

About 38% of those taking five or more prescriptions had stopped taking a medication compared to 23% of those taking three to four prescriptions and 17% of those taking one or two.

The poll also found that people who had a health problem or disability that limits their usual activities and those in fair or poor physical or mental health were nearly twice as likely to say they had stopped taking a medication in the past two years compared to those in better health.

"Adults ages 65 and older take 4.6 medications per month on average," said Susan Reinhard, senior vice president at the AARP Public Policy Institute.

"It's important that patients not only have regular communication about the risks and benefits of each prescription with healthcare providers, but also with loved ones and family caregivers," Reinhard said in the release. "Research shows improved outcomes when family members help make decisions in the deprescribing process."

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The poll is based at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and supported by AARP and Michigan Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more on healthy aging.

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