Do medications work differently in older people?
Medications do indeed work differently in older people. Age-related physical changes (such as slower metabolism, decrease in liver or kidney function, decrease in body fluid and increase in body fat) may cause certain drugs' effects to be less predictable in older adults than in younger or middle-aged people. Because of this, your physician may alter or reduce the standard adult dose for you. That's why it is important to always take your medications exactly as directed by your physician
In addition, older adults become less tolerant of medication side effects and may experience more episodes of adverse drug events. (Adverse drug effects may include difficulty breathing, skin rash, itching, swelling, racing heartbeat, nausea and/or vomiting, diarrhea, feeling faint, or severe depression.) Certain medications have the potential to cause dizziness, which can lead to falls and injury. The risk for such adverse drug effects increases for folks over age 65.
Below are some other common concerns for seniors, with suggestions on how to meet the challenges they present:
- An older adult is more likely to have chronic illnesses. With certain chronic illnesses, however, the body may metabolize (process) medications less effectively. Ask your physician about how your illness(es) may affect how your body processes your medication(s).
- When you take many different medications, the risk of adverse drug effects dramatically increases with each additional drug. Talk with each doctor you see or pharmacist about what to expect from the combination of medications you take. Make sure your doctor knows about all medications prescribed by other physicians you see, as well as vitamins or supplements you are taking.
- The more complex your dosage schedule, the greater the risk of errors in taking your medication, such as accidentally taking two doses of a medication or forgetting to take a medication at the prescribed time. It may be useful for you to use daily medication containers or a color-coded system to help reduce your risk of a mix-up. A daily log or other reminder system can also be helpful.
Find more information on your medications in our Drug Information section.