Pill-popping seniors warned of health risks

ELDERLY Australians are popping prescription pills at an alarming rate and health professionals are warning in some cases it could result in death.

A new report has revealed an increased number of senior citizens are taking multiple different medications daily.

The report, released today in the Medical Journal of Australia, found almost one million Australians over the age of 70 take five or more medicines a day.

Researchers say using several medicines concurrently - called polypharmacy - places seniors at significant risk.

It has been linked with poor clinical outcomes, including nutritional deficiencies, falls, frailty, impaired cognition, more frequent hospitalisation and death.

While polypharmacy may be necessary, there are health risks involved. Picture: iStock
While polypharmacy may be necessary, there are health risks involved. Picture: iStock

The study, led by Dr Amy Page from University of Western Australia Centre for Optimisation of Medicines, analysed a 10 per cent random sample of people eligible for medicines listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme between 2006-2017.

They found a 52 per cent increase in the number of people taking five medicines or more during that time.

"Taking multiple medications may be necessary, but it needs to be carefully assessed by a medical professional and balanced against the potential risks," Dr Page said.

"Strategies to increase people's understanding of the potential risks involved in taking multiple medications are needed that target both health professionals and the public."

Australian Medical Association Queensland council representative Dr Michael Clements said the report wasn't surprising.

"We do see this, and it is a sign of modern medicine and it's wonderful we can use these medications to prolong life," he said. "But by the same token it is important that we use this evidence of the risks of polypharmacy to ensure that patients do find a GP they trust to help them navigate what number of medications is right for them."

Dr Clements said it is the daily job of a GP to make decisions with the patient to determine whether the benefits of the tablet outweigh the risks.