Popping Pills: How many is too many?

My mom is 76 years old and is currently taking 12 different medications. Is that too many for one person to be taking?

The answer to your question depends on your mom and what she is taking. That being said, the correct answer is very likely "yes." Clearly, as a society we are overmedicated. Seventy percent of adults in the United States over the past year have taken or currently takes a prescription medication. One out of 10 adults takes five or more prescriptions. Our medical care system is very adept at adding medications but rarely de-prescribes them. The more medications that anyone takes, the greater the likelihood of adverse effects and the greater the likelihood of drug interactions.

My suggestion is that you talk to your pharmacist and/or your prescriber about this. Ask them to go through each medication and make sure that each is still needed, that there is not redundancy in the medication regimen, that there are no potentially significant drug interactions, and that the benefits of each medication clearly outweigh the risks. In most cases when this type of analysis is done, medications are removed from the regimen. Additionally, as we age many chronic conditions can be treated a bit less aggressively, sometimes reducing the need for medication.

De-prescribing medications will result in fewer medications which will lower cost and reduce the risk of drug misadventures — all of which may improve our quality of life.

John R. White is chair of the Department of Pharmacotherapy at WSU-Spokane and an expert on diabetes. He served as editor and author of the newly released edition of Medications for the Treatment of Diabetes for health care professionals. The American Diabetes Association has called the book, "the most authoritative guide to diabetes therapeutics available."

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