The number of retirement-age Americans taking at least three psychiatric drugs more than doubled between 2004 and 2013, even though almost half of them had no mental health diagnosis on record, researchers reported on Monday.
The new analysis, based on data from doctors' office visits, suggests that inappropriate prescribing to older people is more common than previously thought. Office visits are a close, if not exact, estimate of underlying patient numbers. The paper appears in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Geriatric medical organizations have long warned against overprescribing to older people, who are more susceptible to common side effects of psychotropic drugs, such as dizziness and confusion. For more than 20 years, the American Geriatrics Society has published the so-called Beers Criteria for potentially inappropriate use, listing dozens of drugs and their mutual interactions.
In that time, prescription rates of drugs like antidepressants, sleeping pills and painkillers nonetheless generally increased in older people, previous studies have found. The new report captures one important dimension, the rise in so-called polypharmacy — three drugs or more — in primary care, where most of the prescribing happens. Earlier research has found that elderly people are more likely to be on at least one psychiatric drug long term than younger adults, even though the incidence of most mental disorders declines later in life.