Drugs Health Pharma

Adverse risks increase in elderly due to polypharmacy


HQ Team

December 19, 2022:Prescription drugs help people to combat diseases, but overuse or misuse can be harmful. The coronavirus pandemic saw increased use of prescription drugs, according to SingleCare . Drugs thought to treat COVID-19, supplements, antidepressants, and stimulants for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) all saw increased usage under medical supervision or without it.

People using medication take an average of four medicines per SingleCare. The simultaneous use of multiple medicines is called polypharmacy and is a point of contention in the medical field. Polypharmacy has been linked to numerous health concerns, and research has linked it to dementia.

Polypharmacy has become a growing health concern for older adults who are more likely to be prescribed different drugs for multiple chronic conditions, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Multiple chronic conditions (MCC), are defined as two or more chronic conditions such as arthritis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary heart disease, depression, diabetes, and hypertension. Marcel Salive, a health science administrator in NIA’s Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology, said,

“Although most combinations of health conditions can be managed using typical approaches, complexity increases as the number of conditions increases. We are at the early stages of research into MCC and still grappling with how best to approach the problem so we can make progress in improving both treatment and quality of life.”

The NIA warned in a 2021 research paper about  the use of excessive medications and associated health risks, which include adverse drug effects, harmful drug interactions, and drug-disease interactions.

“Polypharmacy has many negative consequences,” Manouchehr Saljoughian, PhD, a pharmacist at the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, California, warned in an article for the U.S. Pharmacist journal in 2019.

Polypharmacy and Dementia

Recently, a study published in the Aging and Disease journal showed the association between polypharmacy and dementia. A team of researchers from the University of Plymouth in the U.K. analyzed the medical records of more than 33,000 dementia patients in Wales from 1990 to 2015 for their study.

They found 82 percent of patients taking three or more medications within the five years leading up to their diagnosis of dementia. In comparison, just 5.5 percent were using this many drugs 16 to 20 years before dementia diagnosis, according to the study.

Previously,  a 2019 meta-analysis of six studies from 2008 to 2017 published in the Aging & Mental Health journal indicated that the concurrent use of five or more medications raises the risk of dementia by 30 percent. When the researchers pushed the threshold to 10 or more medications, they found that dementia risk was 52 percent higher.

“Polypharmacy, the concurrent use of multiple medications by an individual, has been found to be associated with several negative health outcomes. In this analysis, dementia was another negative health status that was associated with polypharmacy,” the researchers concluded. “Additionally, excessive polypharmacy, which is the concurrent use of 10 or more medications by a patient, was also associated with dementia.”

There are many different types of dementia associated with ageing, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia isn’t a normal part of ageing, according to the CDC.  Many other factors increase the risk of developing dementia, including “age, family history, race, ethnicity, poor heart health, and traumatic brain injury.”

Experts believe that in multi-medication, certain drugs interact, and side effects are amplified. Some drugs with long usage themselves cause memory loss and fog, and when combined with other drugs they place added stress on the brain and nervous systems in general. This leads to cognitive health decline in the long term.


The U.S. Deprescribing Research Network, funded by NIA, is actively looking to build a community of caregivers and researchers. including physicians, pharmacists, and nurses to help improve research in the relatively new field of deprescribing. Its goal is to develop and share resources and support innovative pilot studies to improve the quality of care and health outcomes for older adults.

In other studies, researchers are testing deprescribing strategies for treating people with conditions such as Alzheimer’s dementia, heart failure, and MCC.

The fraternity is also using new technology to counteract the dangers of adverse reactions to polyprescribing.

A startup in Israel uses a sophisticated algorithm that can analyze an infinite number of possible drug interaction conflicts. MDI Health has created an ‘artificial pharmacology intelligence platform’, which understands the vast and complex network of relationships between drugs and an array of lifestyle factors and flags concerns in a matter of minutes. “MDI Health has made it possible to improve the quality of medication reviews and intervention via its artificial pharmacology intelligence, which takes into account individual data such as lab results, lifestyle factors, and polypharmacy information (the use of multiple prescriptions multiple medications), and does so at scale, saving and improving the lives of millions,” says Brad Margolis, Chief Operating Officer at MDI.

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