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Two-thirds of seniors in Canada taking five or more drugs: study

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Most seniors in Manitoba — as well as the rest of the country — are popping down five or more drugs at the same time.

And the report that finding is found in, compiled by the Canadian Institute for Health Information and released today, also found that seniors who are living in long-term care facilities are medicated more than those living in the community — many times with drugs they likely shouldn’t be on.

The CIHI study, using figures submitted in 2012 by provincial pharmaceutical drug plans in eight provinces including Manitoba, as well as the federal drug program administered by the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, was released on Thursday. CIHI was created by the federal, provincial and territorial governments as a not-for-profit, independent organization to collect and analyze information on health and health care in Canada.

The study found that 65.9 per cent of seniors claimed the costs of five or more drugs, while 27.2 per cent claimed 10 or more drugs.

"Does it surprise me that seniors take a lot of drugs? No, not at all," Prof. Verena Menec, director of the University of Manitoba’s Centre on Aging, said today.

"A large part of it is that as people get older they have more health problems. If an 80-year-old is on a lot of drugs, that doesn’t surprise me. But I’d like to know what they are on and if they interact with each other."

The study found the most commonly used drug by seniors, at 46.6 per cent, were statins, the drugs used to treat high cholesterol.

But Menec said what’s interesting is that the study found 46.5 per cent of seniors living in long-term care facilities were taking drugs from what’s known as the "Beers list." It’s a list of potentially inappropriate drugs to prescribe to seniors developed by Dr. Mark Beers in 1991, and updated by the American Geriatrics Society in 2012, because there’s an elevated risk of adverse effects.

The CIHI study found that’s more than twice the rate of the seniors taking the drugs who live in the community (21.3 per cent).

The top prescribed drug, at 17.4 per cent, from the Beers list is lorazepam, which is all right to be prescribed for treating anxiety, but not for insomnia, agitation or delirium because it brings a higher risk of cognitive impairment and falls. Six of the top 10 drugs on the Beers list are psychotropic drugs used to treat conditions ranging from depression to insomnia.

"The statistics on inappropriate prescription drug use suggests the need for pharmacist and physician review of medications given to seniors," she said.

"There’s a sense there is too much being taken."

Jordan Hunt, the CIHI’s manager of pharmaceuticals, said two-thirds of seniors across the country are taking five or more drugs. The CIHI study represents 70 per cent of seniors in Canada.

"The reason is because of the health and age of the population," Hunt said.

"Six of 10 of the most commonly used drugs are for cardiovascular conditions, including high blood pressure."

Hunt said an earlier study by the CIHI in 2010 didn’t look at whether seniors were taking drugs on the Beers list.

"Beers list drugs are potentially inappropriate for seniors. There might be a safer alternative," he said.

Overall, Hunt said the use of drugs by Manitoba seniors is "just above the average rate".

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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