Pill Pile-Up: How Too Many Meds Could Mess With Your Health

As we age, the number of pills we take inevitably increases, and often our medicine cabinets become cluttered with pharmaceuticals prescribed by our doctors. These prescriptions, however, may actually be putting you at risk instead of improving your health. Scientists at Jefferson State University have expressed concern over the sheer number of medications seniors are taking. Over-prescription could mean that patients are taking unnecessary and potentially harmful extra medications.

Doctors might think they are supporting a patient with prescriptions, but there may be a lack of sufficient screening to know if a patient is being over-medicated. This concern is particularly relevant for seniors who are also being treated for cancer. Seniors constitute a sizable portion of cancer patients––60 percent of cancer diagnoses occur in patients aged over 65––but the interactions between cancer treatments and other medications are poorly understood.

Researchers examined the medication habits of 234 seniors who are being treated for cancer, finding that 43 percent were taking more than ten medications at once, and 51 percent were taking prescriptions that likely provided no benefits to the patient. Seniors are a vulnerable population that is more susceptible to the risks of bearing a heavy pill burden.

The sheer number of medications that seniors are expected to juggle makes it likely that some will be forgotten or taken inappropriately. On average, seniors aged over 65 take more than 14 prescriptions at any one time. This over-prescription is not only overwhelming for seniors to manage, it is also costly. The healthcare system spends over $170 billion each year to treat illnesses and injuries caused by the interactions between these complex medications.

The responsibility falls on the patient to take charge of the medications they are taking, so take a good look at your medicine cabinet and make it a priority to understand and take only what is absolutely necessary. Arrange a meeting with your doctor to ask for a justification for each prescribed medication and consult a second opinion if necessary.

To help avoid dangerous drug interactions, consult high-quality resources like the FDA’s drug interactions page, The People’s Pharmacy, and Be MedWise. These resources can be a starting point for researching and understanding the potential side effects of your medications, but always remember to consult your doctor for medical advice pertaining to your specific situation.

By taking control of your medications, especially during the vulnerable years as a senior or if you are battling cancer, you can reduce the risks of over-medication, stay healthier, and avoid becoming another statistic in the nation’s over-medication crisis. Engage in open discussions with your physician, ask questions, and remain an informed participant in your health management. Navigating your medication regimen and doing so wisely will be essential for maintaining overall health and well-being. Your future self will thank you.