Study: 34% of older U.S. adults prescribed potentially inappropriate drugs

The prescriptions were linked to increased hospitalizations

Almost 25% of Prescribed Antibiotics Are Unnecessary, Says Study

Many older adults use prescription medications but according to a recent study, over a quarter of people age 65 and older have been prescribed potentially inappropriate drugs.

An Oct. 22 press release from the University at Buffalo publicized the findings of a study, which was published in August in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Older adults being prescribed such medications was associated with more hospitalizations and patient costs of an average of over $450 a year. These findings came as a result of research that looked into the consequences of potentially inappropriate medications on the effective use of health care and costs in the U.S.

“Although efforts to de-prescribe have increased significantly over the last decade, potentially inappropriate medications continue to be prescribed at a high rate among older adults in the United States,” David Jacobs, Ph.D., lead investigator and assistant professor of pharmacy practice in the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences said in a statement.

Potentially inappropriate medications are drugs that older adults should avoid since their risks outweigh the benefits of the medication or when lower-risk, effective alternatives are available. The risk of experiencing adverse side effects from medications increases with age.

“The average age of the U.S. population is rising, and older adults account for a disproportionate amount of prescription medications," said Collin Clark, first author on the paper and clinical assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science. "Harm to older adults caused by potentially inappropriate medications is a major public health challenge.”

To conduct the study, University of Buffalo researchers used research from the 2011–2015 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey that the U.S. Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducts each year.

The analysis was used to study the prescription of 33 potentially inappropriate medications or classes of medications to adults 65 and older. Such medications included antidepressants, antipsychotics, barbiturates and estrogens to name a few.

Researchers surveyed 218 million-plus older adults and over 34% were prescribed at least one potentially inappropriate medication. On average, those patients were prescribed twice as many drugs. It was also found that they were also almost twice as likely to be hospitalized or visit the emergency room and were more likely to visit a primary care physician compared to older adults that potentially inappropriate medication wasn’t prescribed to.

Costs were also associated with being prescribed potentially inappropriate medication, as older adults spent an extra $458 on health care — an additional $128 on prescription drugs included — if prescribed these medications.

“De-prescribing is currently at an early stage in the United States." Jacobs said. "Further work is needed to implement interventions that target unnecessary and inappropriate medications in older adults.”

According to the Health in Aging Foundation’s public education portal,, people age 65 and older take prescribed medications more than any U.S. age group. Older adults can take steps to lower their chances of over medication and poor reactions to the drugs, according to the website. They include keeping track of all medications taken and regularly reviewing medications.