Epic Systems researchers find 1 in 5 seniors takes a medication they likely shouldn’t Epic Systems researchers find 1 in 5 seniors takes a medication they likely shouldn’t

It’s no secret: As Americans age, their medication lists tend to lengthen, with small herds of pill bottles appearing on kitchen tables and nightstands. What’s less visible is the way certain prescription and over-the-counter medicines work differently in those over 65, posing distinct risks. For 30 years, doctors have been warned to generally avoid prescribing such drugs to seniors.

Now, a study by health researchers at Verona-based Epic Systems offers further evidence that seniors are regularly receiving such medications anyway. The study, published by the Epic Health Research Network (EHRN) on Oct. 8, found that one in five seniors is prescribed a medication from a list that seniors should usually avoid.

Originally created in 1991 by geriatrician Mark H. Beers and a panel of experts, the Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults is designed to make doctors, nurses and pharmacists aware of likely problematic side effects for patients 65 and older. Today, the “Beers list” is maintained and updated by the American Geriatric Society, and it’s used by healthcare professionals around the world.

Before prescribing a medication from the list, doctors are encouraged to weigh the potential benefits against the risks — which can range from confusion to heart failure — and prescribe alternatives when possible. But previous studies had found that, despite warnings, such medications were still being prescribed to seniors.

The new study offers a wider view of the issue, said Dr. Chris Mast, a physician on Epic’s clinical informatics team and one of the authors of the study. While prior studies have generally looked at patients in just one health care system — say, one set of clinics — the Epic researchers analyzed data from the medical records of 11.6 million patients aged 65 or older, from health care providers throughout the U.S.

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