As one ages, one tends to take more and more drugs. In the process one also becomes liable to adverse reactions, leading to hospitalization. And that in turn weighs down the public health system.
A study published last year by the Canadian Medical Association Journal revealed that adverse drug reactions accounted for 12 per cent, or more than one in nine, of all emergency-room visits.
Numerous other studies have shown that side effects due to drugs are the No. 1 reason seniors are hospitalized.
Not only do drug reactions cost the health-care system millions of dollars annually in expensive prescriptions, but they also slow down the entire system, causing waiting times to increase, as doctors struggle to diagnose drug-related problems.
Women were more likely than men to be on multiple drugs, according to Statistics Canada, with nearly 14 per cent of them taking more than five medications at any given time. The rates were even higher among women living in nursing homes, where more than half (54 per cent) were on multiple drugs.
Overall, more than half of seniors in nursing homes (53 per cent) and 13 per cent of seniors living in the community reported taking more than five drugs. That amounted to more than half a million seniors, with 94,000 of them in long-term care and 445,000 in households.
The most commonly used drugs were those that treat the nervous system, such as painkillers, antidepressants and sedatives. That was followed by drugs for the gastrointestinal system, such as laxatives, antacids and medications to treat diabetes. Also common were drugs used to treat heart disease.
According to IMS Health Canada, which tracks prescription drug use, Canadians spent a total of $21.4 billion on medications in 2008, up from $20.2 billion in 2007, Pauline Tam reported for Ottawa Citizen.
Obviously then entire medication process in the case of elders has to be monitored closely, it is pointed out.