Dr. Caleb Alexander knows how easily older people can fall into so-called polypharmacy. Perhaps a patient, like most seniors, sees several specialists who write or renew prescriptions.
"A cardiologist puts someone on good, evidence-based medications for his heart," said Dr. Alexander, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. "An endocrinologist does the same for his bones."
And let's say the patient, like many older adults, also uses an over-the-counter reflux drug and takes a daily aspirin or a zinc supplement and fish oil capsules.
"Pretty soon, you have an 82-year-old man who's on 14 medications," Dr. Alexander said, barely exaggerating.
Geriatricians and researchers have warned for years about the potential hazards of polypharmacy, usually defined as taking five or more drugs concurrently. Yet it continues to rise in all age groups, reaching disturbingly high levels among older adults.
"It's as perennial as the grass," Dr. Alexander said. "The average senior is taking more medicines than ever before