- Intake of four or more medications may be referred to as polypharmacy.
- Scientists have found that the use of too many medications among older adults may make them walk slower when compared to people who took fewer medications.
- Further research is however required to have a follow-up on the findings and to know about the effects of specific medications.
Polypharmacy refers to the use of four or more medications by a patient. Multiple medications may increase the risk of falls, frailty, disability and even death.
However, taking too many medications may not be essential for adults. Polypharmacy may also be a problem for older adults due to side effects or interaction that results from the use of different medications.
‘Older adults who take more than five medications may walk slower when compared to those who take fewer medications.’
A new study has examined on how polypharmacy can affect walking. The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Walking properly is a sign of good health for older adults. However, it may be affected by the use of multiple medications. Even though healthcare providers know that some treatment could slow or hamper the old person's ability to walk, only little is known about polypharmacy's effect.
The research study aimed to examine information from 482 people who were aged 65 or older. These patients were enrolled in the "Central Control of Mobility in Aging" study.
The main aim of the study was to find out how the changes in the brain and our central nervous system can occur during aging and how it could impact an older person's ability to walk.
The research team confirmed the medications that the study participants were taking. They also defined polypharmacy as using five or more of these treatments.
The physical health, mental well-being and the walking ability of the participants were examined during the start of the study and also at yearly follow-up appointments.
During the evaluation, the research team also measured the participant's walking speed. None of them used walking canes or walkers. The participants were asked to walk normally on a 20-foot long walkway, and to walk while talking.
The research team had interviewed the participants to know about their medical illness, brain functions and their ability to think and make decisions.
Out of the 482 participants in the study, the findings revealed that,
34% used five or more medications during their study period
10% used more than eight medications
Polypharmacy participants were more likely to have hypertension, diabetes, heart failure and a history of heart attacks. These people had a risk of fall within last year and were found to be more overweight than people in the non-polypharmacy group.
Besides chronic health problems, history of falls and other issues in the polypharmacy group. These people had a slower walking speed when compared to people in the non-polypharmacy group.
Older adults who took more than eight medications had slower walking speed when walking while talking.
The research team concluded that there might be a link between polypharmacy and walking speed. More studies are however required to follow-up on the findings and to learn about the effects of specific medications.
The research team has also noted that during their check-ups, older adults were asked about the medications that they took, including herbal and over-the-counter supplements. And also suggested that the walking speed was measured during regular check-ups.
- Claudene George et al, Polypharmacy and Gait Performance in Community-dwelling Older Adults, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2017); DOI: 10.1111/jgs.14957