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One in four disabled seniors use risky or ineffective medicines

Roughly a quarter of Americans aged 65 and older with disabilities reported using at least one prescription drug deemed inappropriate for persons his or her age, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's (AHRQ) 2007 National Healthcare Disparities Report. 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 as inappropriate for people 65 and older. These medicines, including drugs such as Xanax, Demerol, Darvon, and Procardia, should be avoided either because they are ineffective, pose a high risk of side effects, or may be avoided in favor of a safer alternative.

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

  • Use of these drugs was more common among people with complex disabilities (27 percent) than 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.

For more information, go to the 2007 National Healthcare Disparities Report (www.ahrq.gov/qual/qrdr07.htm), which examines disparities in Americans' access to and quality of health care by race, ethnicity, income, and education.

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