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Friday, February 17, 2017

Canadian Seniors at Risk: New study warns against harmful prescription medication use, offers new strategies for improvement

Seniors use more prescription drugs than any other age group in Canada. Approximately 67% of seniors take five or more prescriptions drugs a year and 25% take ten or more prescriptions. Furthermore, it is projected that as many as half of the medications given to seniors are administered incorrectly or are over-prescribed, which can lead to harmful drug reactions and interactions. 1 In addition, many of these drugs have either not been studied extensively for this age group or have not been formally approved to treat the conditions for which they have been prescribed. In other words, some of these medications are prescribed to seniors without any concrete evidence that they are safe or effective and, sometimes, even when they are known to be risky. One example is antipsychotics, which have known adverse effects, but which are still often prescribed to patients with dementia. 2

In her study, “Improving Prescription Drug Safety for Canadian Seniors,” Nicole Bernier examines the unsafe and inappropriate use of prescription drugs by seniors and provides some possible solutions to the problem. 1 Although there are many joint educational initiatives that have been started by professionals, advocacy groups, and health authorities, Bernier posits that improving prescription drug safety among seniors will require more systematic change  from national bodies, such as Health Canada, provincial and territorial health ministries, as well as local health authorities. Such a strategy should include a revision of the drug approval process, tracking newly marketed drugs that are prescribed to seniors, and reporting adverse drug reactions.  Health providers should have access to in-depth information on their patients’ medical histories and to clinical decision-making tools which would allow them to conduct independent research into off-label prescription drug use. Canadian provinces and territories should also be mandated to update their prescribing guidelines on a regular basis, require medications reviews, and to provide coverage or alternative nonpharmacological therapies and interventions.

Much more can and needs to be done in order to protect seniors and to address this health issue for our increasingly aging population.
To see the full Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) study, visit:
1 1 Bernier, Nicole F. “Improving Prescription Drug Safety for Canadian Seniors.” IRPP. Jan. 12th 2017. Accessed February 2017 from

2 2 Maust, D. T., Kim, H. M., Seyfried, L. S., Chiang, C., Kavanagh, J., Schneider, L. S., & Kales, H. C. (2015). Antipsychotics, other psychotropics, and the risk of death in patients with dementia: number needed to harm. JAMA psychiatry, 72(5), 438-445. Accessed February 2017 from

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