June 1, 2006               

Table of Contents

The Modern Medicine Cabinet
(Introduction to special issue)
Medication Safety
(Valuable resource link)
Drug Interactions
(University of Florida study)
A Gentle Reminder From SFA
(Sleep aids)
Certain Medications Can Affect Mental Sharpness
Anticoagulant Breakthrough
Two Classes of Drugs May Have Added Value
A Little Unsteady

The Modern Medicine Cabinet

Most issues of SFA's newsletter Experience!
provide information on a wide variety of health and fitness topics. But sometimes we like to focus on a single theme of vital import to our readers. Devoting this issue to the subject of medication was an easy editorial decision.

Recently the potential for over-medication among older adults has occupied a prominent position both in the news and within the scientific community. Judging from the number of related messages in our mailbag, it is also on the minds of Experience! subscribers. One concerned SFA member wrote to us about her 81-year-old friend who uses seventeen medications prescribed by numerous doctors, none of whom coordinates the patient's overall drug therapy. The following two news items (directly below) should be of special interest in such cases. The first will connect you with a practical resource that is geared to provide answers for individuals using multiple medications. The second will connect you with an informative discussion of the altered effects possible when certain drugs are taken along with other specific drugs or herbs. To access comprehensive information and solutions, just use our convenient click-on links.

Concurrent in the news are promising reports of health-promoting pharmaceutical discoveries. This issue of Experience! addresses exciting research findings that may positively impact the future for persons who have high cholesterol or hypertension and for persons who use blood thinners. Also included in this special issue are additional medication-related facts and, of course, a spoonful of humor to help the medicine go down!

Medication Safety

Older adults need to know more about medication interactions
and how they can impact diabetes, hypertension, heart conditions, and other health challenges prevalent among senior populations. So a national public education initiative called "Seniors & Medicine: Proper Use for Good Health" has been launched by the National Council on Aging and Quigley Corp., a product distributor.

A useful component of the awareness campaign is its interactive web site, which provides information on medication-related issues. To check it out, visit www.senior-med-safety.com.

To emphasize the scale of the need for better education on this subject, let's consider some arresting facts:
  • Nearly a quarter-million Americans age 65-plus are hospitalized every year due to adverse drug reactions.
  • Approximately 16,000 traffic accidents involving senior Americans every year are attributed to adverse drug reactions and other medication-related problems.
  • More than 32,000 hip fractures in senior Americans every year (from falling) also are attributed to medication problems, including adverse reactions.

Drug Interactions

Scientists at the University of Florida
have been looking into a trend among older women that can be risky healthwise. Many of their research subjects were found to regularly combine prescribed medications, over-the-counter drugs, and herbal remedies -- sometimes resulting in adverse interactions.

According to the project's lead researcher Saunjoo Yoon, Ph.D., R.N., patients simply might not consider herbal or over-the-counter products to be "real drugs." Therefore, it never crosses their minds to mention using such substances to their health care providers. Equally problematic, Dr. Yoon notes, is that health professionals often fail to ask their patients for a complete listing of the medications they use. This lack of communication can be health threatening.

Just one example of a potentially high-risk combination, which was observed during the University of Florida study, involves mixing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) -- often used to treat arthritis -- with the herbal drug ginkgo. Especially in older persons, this can increase the risk for serious gastrointestinal bleeding.

For other examples of inadvisable drug combinations, as well as detailed information about the investigation described above, see "Don't Ask, Might Not Think to Tell" on the SFA web site www.seniorfitness.org.

A Gentle Reminder From SFA
As we grow older we may encounter setbacks,
including sleep interruption, that make it more difficult to get a good night's sleep. Sleeping pills might seem like the obvious solution, but they have certain drawbacks. For one, they're addictive. Secondly, they may have harmful interactions with other medications. Additionally, our bodies begin metabolizing medications at a slower rate with age. Because of this, the effects of sleeping pills taken at night can last into the next day, making us feel sluggish and drowsy. That lowered state of alertness can put us at an increased risk for traffic mishaps, falling, and other accidental injuries. Therefore, we should explore more natural alternatives before resorting to the use of sleeping pills. If sleep problems persist, we should consult our physicians. Special tip: Increased physical activity often does the trick!

Certain Medications Can Affect Mental Sharpness

Anticholinergic drugs are used to treat a vast array of conditions
ranging from hypertension to abnormal heart rhythm to Parkinson's disease to allergies and more. A study published on-line in the British Medical Journal recently linked the drugs to mild mental deficits in older persons, according to Reuters Health.

In studying 30 patients (ages 60-plus) who had been taking an anticholinergic drug for a year or longer, researchers found mild mental impairment in 24 of them. Verbal fluency, narrative recall, attention, and simple reaction time were among the mental skills affected. A significantly lower rate of impairment was seen in similar subjects who were not using an anticholinergic medication.

However, an 8-year follow-up of the participants found that the risk for dementia among those who used the anticholinergic medication did not increase.

Researchers concluded that anticholinergic medication should be considered as a possible cause of mild impairment to the thought processes, which can be reversed. They recommended that physicians find out whether elderly patients with mild impairment are already using any anticholinergic drugs before prescribing one.

Anticoagulant Breakthrough

Not all persons who use anticoagulant medications (blood thinners)
are capable of self-monitoring their care with a home testing kit, but persons able to do so can improve their health prospects significantly, according to a study published by the medical journal The Lancet. Self-monitoring entails placing a blood sample (from a pin prick) into a device that indicates whether one's anticoagulant dose needs to be adjusted.

Researchers who conducted an analysis of 14 previous studies (including approximately 3,000 subjects using the anticoagulant warfarin) found that persons who self-monitored their blood-thinner treatment at home and adjusted the dosage accordingly experienced fewer hemorrhages and blood clots. They also had a significantly lower death rate.

Two Classes of Drugs May Have Added Value

Using statins (prescribed for high cholesterol)
or beta-blockers (prescribed for hypertension and other conditions) might decrease the risk of suffering a sudden heart attack without receiving a prior warning signal such as mild chest pain.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined the cases of approximately 1,400 patients (ages 45-74) with recent diagnoses of heart disease in order to determine why some had heart attacks whereas others experienced minor chest pain as their initial symptom of heart disease. Researchers found that significantly more of the patients who had chest pain instead of a heart attack had taken statin or beta-blocker medications during the preceding five months. Additional study will be undertaken in an effort to confirm the findings.

A Little Unsteady

Many of us have experienced that "reeling feeling"
associated with postural hypotension, and it certainly can occur in the absence of medication. But did the anonymous quipster, cited below, know that some commonly-prescribed drugs also may increase one's tendency for lightheadedness upon rising? Here's our quote-of-the-day:

"I don't do alcohol anymore. I get the same effect just standing up fast!"
                                                                                  -- Author Unknown


Experience! readers: Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

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