Are older women more likely to be prescribed inappropriate drugs?

A recent study shows those over 65 are filling more prescriptions that are unnecessary, very high risk or that could react badly with other medications.


The research
One in three older women have received inappropriate prescriptions in British Columbia, according to a new study published in the journal Age and Ageing.

Researchers looked at prescriptions dispensed in 2013 to over 660,000 residents of British Columbia aged 65 and older, about half of which were women. They used the Beers criteria to measure whether a prescription was inappropriate, taking into account whether the drug was unnecessary, very high risk or could react badly with other medications. Women were between 16 and 23 percent more likely than men to be prescribed inappropriate drugs — especially those used to treat pain, anxiety, insomnia and depression.

What it means
The researchers suggested that gender affects the way care providers interact with their patients, but didn’t specify how. Though the study was done in B.C., the results may point to a similar trend throughout Canada, says Paula Rochon, vice-president of research at Women’s College Hospital and the lead author of a study looking at inappropriate prescribing in Ontario and the U.S.

Before starting a new medication, Rochon recommends that women talk to their doctor about other drugs they’re currently taking, begin at a low dose, or consider alternative solutions to prescription drugs. “You need to think about whether you need drugs at all or if there’s another option,” she said. 

The caveat
As a result of using administrative data, researchers could only examine which drugs had been dispensed, which means they weren’t able to capture everything being prescribed. “The prescribing of these drugs could be higher because not all prescriptions get filled,” said Rochon. On the other hand, researchers also couldn’t tell if the dispensed drugs had been consumed. “We never exactly know if people are taking their medications,” Rochon noted.

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