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One in Four Disabled Seniors Use Risky or Ineffective Medicines

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AHRQ News and Numbers

Release date: April 30, 2008

Roughly one quarter of Americans with disabilities aged 65 and older reported using at least one prescription drug deemed inappropriate for persons of their age, according to the latest News and Numbers summary from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Only about half as many (13 percent) elderly people without disabilities used inappropriate drugs, according to the analysis of 2004 data.

Thirty-three medications are regarded by physicians as inappropriate for people ages 65 and older. These medicines—including drugs such as Xanax®, Demerol®, Darvon® and Procardia®—should be avoided because they are ineffective, pose a high risk of side effects, or there is a safer alternative drug.

AHRQ's analysis of medication use among older people also found:

  • Use of these inappropriate drugs was more common among people with complex disabilities (27 percent) than among those with basic disabilities (23 percent). Complex disabilities limit a person's ability to work or socialize, while basic disabilities limit a person's ability to walk, bathe, or carry out other everyday activities.
  • Older people with disabilities, regardless of their race or ethnicity, were at least twice as likely as older people without disabilities to have used an inappropriate prescription drug.
  • Seniors with disabilities who never finished or stopped at high school were more likely to use potentially inappropriate drugs than those who went on to college.

This AHRQ News and Numbers summary is based on data from the 2007 National Healthcare Disparities Report, which examines the disparities in Americans' access to and quality of health care, with breakdowns by race, ethnicity, income, and education.

For additional information on this AHRQ News and Numbers topic, or to speak with an expert, contact Bob Isquith at or call (301) 427-1539.

Current as of April 2008


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