While there’s no denying that many medications we use can cause an array of side effects that impact various aspects of our lives, health experts are warning that ceasing use of preventative medication doesn’t necessarily reduce frailty and adverse health outcomes in the older population.
Australian research published by the University of South Australia shows that when people over the age of 65 stop taking preventive medication, the risk of frailty can “significantly” increase. Being frail is associated with a greater risk of falls, lengthier stays in hospital and troubles recovering from sickness and surgery.
Many people take preventative medicines to avert and avoid diseases and major health issues including heart attack, angina, stroke and heart failure. They’re also used to manage conditions including high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.
According to the study published in the Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research, there are 250,000 hospital admissions each year and many of those are the result of medicine-related issues. Worryingly, older Australians make up a large number of these cases.
Researchers believe improving the safe use of medicines in older people is vital for them to maintain better health.
“Frailty is a clinically recognisable state of weakened ability to cope with everyday stressors. It’s also a precursor for significant health decline,” lead researcher Imaina Widagdo said in a statement. “We know that certain medicines can negatively impact a person’s frailty, but this study has also shown that not taking certain medicines can also affect a person’s frailty.
“By understanding the relationship between medicines and frailty we’re able to provide more answers to improve the quality of older peoples’ lives.”
Researchers used data from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing and assessed medicine use and frailty scores in 2,087 participants aged 65 years and older over three years.
It was found that when people stopped using specific preventive medicines such as beta blockers or potassium-sparing diuretics – which are used to manage high blood pressure – their frailty scores were significantly higher than participants who remained on the medication.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease and using medication is a key way people can improve these health outcomes. Meanwhile, researchers stressed the importance of discussing any medication changes with a health professional before making them.
“Managing medicines can be complicated, especially for older people who often juggle multiple prescriptions and doses,” Widagdo said. “But stopping a medicine without prior medical advice can be dangerous and has the potential to lead to adverse health outcomes, including falls, hospitalisations, and even death.”
The study found that by detecting the potential for frailty associated with medicine use, researchers can better inform health practitioners and the public about ways to live better for longer.
Health professionals may be able to offer alternative medications or treatments, which is why it’s important to have these conversations.
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