Adverse Drug Reactions in the Elderly

Can We Stem the Tide?

Shari J. Lynn


Am Nurs Journal. 2012;7(1) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


With age comes the prospect of multiple health problems that require treatment with multiple medications. The likelihood of coronary artery disease, arthritis, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and hypertension increases with age, and along with them comes the need for multiple drug therapies. Also, many elderly people take over-the-counter (OTC) medications, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

When caring for an older adult taking multiple medications, keep in mind that:

  • concurrent use of multiple medications increases the potential for adverse drug reactions (ADRs) and drug interactions

  • age-related pharmacokinetic changes can alter drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion; for example, many elderly patients have renal impairment, which affects drug absorption and excretion and can alter blood drug levels

  • age-related changes in pharmacodynamics can alter a drug's effects

  • compliance with medication regimens may decrease in elderly patients, who may have difficulty keeping track of multiple medication schedules

  • patients may be treated by multiple physicians, who may be prescribing drugs without knowledge of other medications the patient is taking.


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