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Why medication adherence is important for seniors

By Julian Hills

Americans who were part of the Baby Boomer generation are now a part of a booming population of seniors.

Many seniors have at least one chronic condition they have to manage – sometimes by taking one or more prescription medications. Increasing their use of drugs may increase the chance of side effects and drug interactions in seniors.

It’s important that people who take any medications keep up with the latest news that comes out about that particular drug. Even after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a product, new studies could reveal additional dangers of the drug.

Prescription Drugs and Their Side Effects

Pharmaceutical companies are always introducing new products to the market. The news about these medications is fast and constantly changing. It may feel like a new study is being released every other day, which can be intimidating.

Some drugs are linked to dangerous side effects, and sometimes drug companies are accused of fraudulently marketing their products. There have been several headlines in the news recently about cholesterol drugs called statins, diabetes drugs, and even the popular over-the-counter drug Tylenol.

Cholesterol-Fighting Drugs Get New Guidelines

In early November 2013, two leading organizations issued new guidelines for doctors to follow regarding cholesterol-fighting drugs called statins.

Millions of prescriptions are written for the drugs each year. Lipitor and Crestor are two popular statins on the market. Now, millions more may be written, as the new guidelines have broadened the criteria of people who should take the drugs.

Instead of only using the drugs to lower bad cholesterol levels, it’s now being recommended that doctors prescribe them to people with certain risk factors for heart attack or stroke — including family history, age and whether they have type 2 diabetes.

A number of side effects are linked to statins, including type 2 diabetes, muscle damage, memory loss and kidney failure. Patients may wish to have a conversation with their doctors about their risk of heart attack and stroke, and whether the possible side effects of statins outweigh the benefits.

Type 2 Diabetes Drugs and Their Side Effects

Actos, a type 2 diabetes drug that was popular until the FDA issued a warning that using the medication for more than a year is associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer. That determination only came after a five-year ongoing safety review of the drug.

Victoza, Januvia and Byetta are other type 2 diabetes drugs; they have been linked to pancreatitis and possibly even pancreatic cancer.

Dangers Can Come from Over-the-Counter Options

Tylenol is so common that it may seem harmless. Seniors may take it for aches, pains or fever, without giving it a second thought. However, Tylenol is an ingredient in several other popular medications, including Theraflu and Sudafed, and people may not know they are consuming too much Tylenol (acetaminophen). Taking too much acetaminophen can lead to an overdose and possibly liver failure.

In 2013, the FDA warned that the pain reliever is also associated with a skin reaction called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, which can be fatal.

Continue Asking Questions and Research the Drugs You Take

These are just a few of the drugs that have been in the news recently.

Doctors and patients should discuss each medication thoroughly, including side effects, interactions, alternative options and dosage.

There are many reasons why seniors should pay attention to the latest news about medication risks. Computer-savvy seniors or their caretakers can search online – including at Drugwatch.com — to stay up to date on any news regarding their medications.

Julian Hills has been a staff writer for Drugwatch since 2013. He has a background in newspaper and television journalism. He studied Communication and English at Florida State University.