Elderly patients that are taking 5 or more medications – a condition known as polypharmacy – are more likely to experience falls and also have other medical issues, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and a history of heart attacks.
Researchers with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City examined 485 seniors aged 65 and older, though most were in their late 70s, who were living on their own. The participants were asked about the number of medications — including over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and nutritional supplements — they were regularly taking. About 34% were taking 5 or more meds, while 10% were taking at least 8.
The researchers then measured the seniors’ speed while walking on a 20-foot-long walkway, once while talking and a second time silently. No one was using a cane or walker. Participants with polypharmacy walked around 4 centimeters per second (cm/s) slower walking while talking and 6 cm/s while walking normally compared to those taking fewer than 5 medications, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Results also showed that those in the polypharmacy group were more likely to have suffered a fall in the prior year and also to be overweight.
“Polypharmacy predisposes people to adverse drug events, drug interactions, medication nonadherence, and poor functional capacity,” the authors wrote. “The effect is amplified in older adults, who are more prone to medication side effects and outcomes such as falls, which can lead to hospitalization and further functional decline.”
They also suggested that at medical check-ups, seniors should be asked about all the medications, including OTC drugs and supplements, they take as well as having their walking speed measured.