From 2007 to 2009, there were an estimated 99,628 emergency hospitalizations annually for adverse drug events in individuals 65 years and older. The Institute of Medicine estimates the cost of medication-related problems among the elderly in the billions of dollars.
Some medical experts aren't impressed with this latest research. Dr. John J. Messmer, an associate professor of family and community medicine at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine, warns that this is a bad study and only a hands-on review of patient charts can determine the real frequency of inappropriate drug use.
"The problem with these studies is these 'errors' get put into quality reviews and physicians doing a completely appropriate job of treatment get accused of using inappropriate drugs just because they appear on a list," he said. "I agree there is some inappropriate use of potentially harmful drugs, but I believe we do not yet have any reliable data as to its prevalence and this study does not help the matter."
Dr. Heidi Auerbach, who practices geriatric medicine in Needham, Mass. at the Boston Medical Center, said another issue with the study is that it may confuse both physicians and patients. "The meds identified as being the most commonly inappropriate are not actually the ones I have seen listed in studies I've looked at in recent years," she said.
Still, even the physicians who take issue with this particular study agree that polypharmia is a growing issue. I can tell you firsthand that it is.
If you have an older parent and they're taking prescription medication, make sure you have their back. Here's what the medical professionals recommend you do to protect them from overdosing on prescription drugs:
Keep an up-to-date log of all medications. Include over the counter medications and supplements, even multivitamins.
Bring all medications and supplements to each appointment with a primary care provider and ask for a review. Make sure you pay attention to frequency and dosage, which may need to be adjusted with age.
Let the primary care doctor know about any changes made by other providers to medications and treatment as well as any new supplements.
Make sure you or your parent understands what each medication is for. If you don't know, ask.
If your parent falls ill, don't assume symptoms aren't related to a medication, even if no new medication has been added.
Dr. Swati Shroff of the ABC News Medical Unit contributed to this report.