Study finds elderly patients know too little about their medications

May 30, 2002

Only 15 percent of the elderly emergency department patients (over age 65), interviewed in an urban hospital, could correctly list all their medications, dosages, frequencies, and indications, according to a study in the June 2002 Annals of Emergency Medicine. (Knowledge of Prescription Medications Among Elderly Emergency Department Patients)

"Our study reflects poor communication between health care providers and elderly patients, the complexity of modern medication regimens, and the passive role the elderly are taking in their health care," said Joel M. Bartfield, MD, of Albany Medical College in New York and co-author of the study. "Considering a large number of elderly people go to emergency departments with adverse drug reactions, and they are fastest growing age group, this could become a major public health problem."

Of the 77 patients interviewed for the study, each were taking an average of just less than six prescription medications. The study found the more medications elderly patients were taking, the more likely they would have trouble identify them, their dosages, frequencies, and indications.

When researchers verified the actual number of medications patients were prescribed (458 total) with the total number patients had listed (359 total), they found that each patient omitted on average a little more than one medication. While patients listed 359 medications, they only correctly identified 236 drugs (65.5 percent), and only 32.5 percent of patients correctly identified their dosages.

Researchers said if their study had not excluded elderly patients, who did not know their pharmacy, were disoriented or medically unstable, they may have found this problem to be much more pervasive.

Annals of Emergency Medicine is the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians, a national medical organization with nearly 23,000 members. ACEP is committed to improving the quality of emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and a Government Services Chapter representing emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.

American College of Emergency Physicians

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