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One in four Canadian seniors taking 10 or more drugs


Canadian seniors are taking a lot of medication and in some cases, it’s making things much worse.

A report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows 1 in 4 seniors, 1.6 million Canadians aged 65 or older, are being prescribed 10 or more different types of drugs, and that those seniors are five times more likely to end up being hospitalized for an adverse reaction.

CIHI Manager of Pharmaceutical Information Jordan Hunt said the data for Alberta is in line with the national trend.

“Maybe just a slightly lower percentage but really around that 1 in 4 rate, and we also saw slight decline over the five year period (2011 to 2016) that we looked at which was similar to the national number,” he said.

He explained risks and benefits are assessed on a case by case basis, but there are some trends.

Cancer drugs, opioids and blood thinners were the most common drug classes that lead to hospitalizations because of adverse reactions.

“Sedatives which are used for sleep, antipsychotics which are used around dementia, particularly in long term care, these have been ones that clinicians have focused on,” said Hunt.

There has been a reduction in their use, but Hunt said these are all decisions which need to be discussed with a doctor or pharmacist.

Hunt explained as the body ages, it’s more likely to suffer such adverse reactions to drugs.

“As we’re prescribed more drugs, often appropriately, there’s just a need to reassess the drugs we’re taking over time to make sure that they’re still appropriate, those drugs that were prescribed to us six months, a year, in some cases a decade ago,” he said.

While the pattern varies among jurisdictions, the use of 10 or more different drug classes by seniors was higher in rural neighbourhoods in P.E.I., Manitoba and Alberta.

The research also showed women had a higher chronic use of potentially inappropriate drugs, compared to men.