Adverse drug reactions in elderly patients

Article date: February 2004

By: P. A. Routledge, M. S. O'Mahony, K. W. Woodhouse, in Volume 57, Issue 2, pages 121-126

Many studies from around the world show a correlation between increasing age and adverse drug reaction (ADR) rate, at least for some medical conditions. More than 80% of ADRs causing admission or occurring in hospital are type A (dose‐related) in nature, and thus predictable from the known pharmacology of the drug and therefore potentially avoidable. Frail elderly patients appear to be particularly at risk of ADRs and this group is also likely to be receiving several medicines. The toxicity of some drug combinations may sometimes be synergistic and be greater than the sum of the risks of toxicity of either agent used alone. In order to recognize and to prevent ADRs (including drug interactions), good communication is crucial, and prescribers should develop an effective therapeutic partnership with the patient and with fellow health professionals. Undergraduate and postgraduate education in evidence‐based therapeutics is also vitally important. The use of computer‐based decision support systems (CDSS) and electronic prescribing should be encouraged, and when problems do occur, health professionals need to be aware of their professional responsibility to report suspected adverse drug events (ADEs) and ADRs. ‘Rational’ or ‘obligatory’ polypharmacy is becoming a legitimate practice as increasing numbers of individuals live longer and the range of available therapeutic options for many medical conditions increases. The clear risk of ADRs in this situation should be considered in the context that dose‐related failure of existing therapy to manage the condition adequately may be one of the most important reasons for admission of the elderly to hospital. Thus, age itself should not be used as a reason for withholding adequate doses of effective therapies.

DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2125.2003.01875.x

View this article