Inappropriate Drugs For The Elderly

AUGUST 1, 1994 VOLUME 2, NUMBER 4

A recent study by Harvard Medical School researchers alleges that about a quarter of elderly patients receive prescription medications that should rarely be given to those over age 65. Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, the study’s principal researcher, blames drug companies for extensive advertising and promotion without adequate warnings about problems with their products.

Researchers started with a list of twenty medications that they determined to be either ineffective or to have potentially dangerous side effects when used by elderly patients. Those drugs on the suspect list included sedatives such as Valium and Librium, pain relievers Darvon, Darvocet and Indocin, blood thinner Persantine and the antidepressant amitriptyline. Some of the medications were included because they are more toxic than equally effective alternatives, others because they cause side effects such as drowsiness or dizziness, which might lead to an accident or fall.

Armed with the list of twenty suspect medications, researchers reviewed 1987 figures from a study on national health care expenditures. Of the 6,171 elderly individuals included in the survey, 23.5% had received at least one of the inappropriate medications. Extrapolating to national figures, they estimated that 6.6 million elderly Americans receive dangerous or inappropriate prescription medications.

Dr. Woolhandler cautions that concerned patients should not simply stop taking drugs on their own, since some of the medications may have dangerous or even fatal withdrawal effects. Instead, patients should gather all the medications they are taking and “go over them one by one with a doctor they trust.”

Selected Myths About Legal Issues

#1: I have a will, so my estate won’t have to go through probate. Wrong! Writing a will ensures who will receive your estate, but only the probate process can establish the validity of the will. If you own assets in your own name (not including joint tenancy property, policies or accounts that name beneficiaries or property held in trust for someone else) worth more than $30,000 a probate will be necessary to determine whether your will is valid (for real estate, the figure will be $50,000 after January 1, 1995).

#2: If I don’t write a will, the state will take my money. Wrong! If you don’t write a will, the state will write a will for you. The state’s will is even likely to provide exactly what you would have provided if you had gotten around to it. Everything will go to your spouse if you do not have children by someone else. If your spouse does not survive you, everything will go to your children. Other provisions are made for those who do not leave a surviving spouse or children. Of course, you can provide different arrangements by simply writing a will.

#3: Taxes will take much of my estate if I don’t give everything to my children while I am still alive. Wrong! Only those with estates over $600,000 in value have to worry about taxes upon death, and those who give away all their assets during life may not have avoided taxes. Good legal advice may save thousands of dollars.

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