Older adults are often prescribed drugs that have higher anticholinergic properties, which can lead to dementia, cognitive impairment, falls, and even death, reveals a new study.
Anticholinergic medications block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is part of the nervous system and plays a role in involuntary muscle contractions. These drugs are often prescribed for urinary, respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders. They're also often used to treat depression.
Yet, relatively little is known about prescribing trends of high-risk anticholinergic medications in the United States of America.
They found that physicians' prescribing behavior remained stable over time, and these drugs were prescribed in about six percent of visits over a ten-year period. The findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
"High-risk anticholinergic prescribing should be avoided because there are safer alternative medications for older adults," said the lead study author, Greg Rhee, Ph.D., M.S.W., adjunct assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy.
"Older adults are vulnerable to these medications due in part to physiological changes as they age. In general, older adults have a higher likelihood of developing adverse drug events from taking multiple medications," Rhee said.
The research team investigated whether prescribing patterns of high-risk anticholinergic drugs have changed over time and whether these patterns vary by physician specialty and anticholinergic class among older adults in their office-based care. They also estimated demographic and clinical correlates factors independently associated with these high-risk anticholinergic medication prescriptions.
Rhee noted that the prevalence of high-risk anticholinergic prescriptions was stable over time, but varied by physician specialty and drug class. He recommends increasing awareness of potential adverse effects and encouraging providers to prescribe less-risky medications.