Older people encouraged to talk to their doctor about taking fewer medicines

25 Jan 2018 | Health Quality & Safety Commission

SuitcaseThe Council of Medical Colleges (CMC) is encouraging older people to talk to their doctor about whether they could take fewer medicines.

The CMC coordinates the Choosing Wisely campaign, which encourages patients to ask their health professional:

  • Do I really need this test or procedure?

  • What are the risks?

  • Are there simpler, safer options?

  • What happens if I don’t do anything?

In New Zealand, 35 percent of people aged over 65 are taking five or more long-term medications.

CMC chair Dr Derek Sherwood says it is important older people get their medicines reviewed regularly.

'This helps make sure you are receiving the best treatment. When a doctor or pharmacist reviews your medicines they will check things like what medicines you are taking and why, how many different medicines you are taking and any side effects you may be experiencing.'

He says some medicines are more likely to cause side effects in older people.

'Benzodiazepines like diazepam and antipsychotic medicines like clozapine or risperidone are two examples of this. Side effects include feeling dizzy when standing up, feeling sick, not thinking clearly and having blurred eye sight.

'These side effects can also make the person unsteady on their feet, increase the risk of falling, and can affect driving.

'It is important that the benefits of taking such medicines outweigh the risks – that’s why it’s so important to review your medicines regularly with your doctor.'

Dr Sherwood says stopping a medicine can seem daunting, especially if you’ve been taking it for a long time.

'But for many older people, stopping a particular medicine may actually benefit their health. The more medicines you take, the more likely you are to experience side effects and interactions.

'Many older people successfully stop medicines without feeling worse. In fact, you may feel better and improve your quality of life – especially if your symptoms were being caused by your medicines.'

The Choosing Wisely campaign was launched in New Zealand over a year ago. It is led by the Council of Medical Colleges, with partners the Health Quality & Safety Commission and Consumer NZ, and wide sector support.

More isn’t always better when it comes to medical tests, treatments and procedures. Unnecessary interventions are stressful, and potentially expose patients to harm, leading to more testing to investigate false positives.

For further information see the Choosing Wisely website.

Last updated 25/01/2018