Protecting yourself from adverse drug reactions

by John McKiggan

For younger Canadians an adverse reaction to a pharmaceutical drug could be an inconvenience, but to seniors it could be life threatening. A report from the Canadian Institute of Health Information (“CIHI“) states that roughly 27,000 patients a year over the age of 65 end up in the hospital as a result of adverse reactions to their drugs.

According to the CIHI approximately 0.5% of Canadian seniors end up in the hospital every year due to their medication.

Further the cost to health carecare system in Canada of adverse drug reactions among seniors comes to approximately $35.7 million a year.

Not surprising

While the numbers of seniors at risk are high, they are not particularly surprising considering the fact that seniors often have to take a large number of drugs (polypharmacy) and their bodies are generally weakened due to aging.

More drugs = more adverse reactions

The report states that seniors on fifteen or more drugs were 11 times more likely (2.2%) to be hospitalized due to adverse reactions than seniors on five or less drugs (0.2%).

Blood thinners a common problem

According to the report from CIHI the most frequently associated drugs with adverse reactions are Anticoagulants (blood thinners). Seniors take Anticoagulants to prevent strokes and avoid heart attacks. The percentage of adverse reactions due to blood thinners was noted to be approximately 12.6 percent. The risk with Anticoagulants is they can lead to Hemorrhagic disorder (bleeding) due to misuse.

Cancer medication comes in at a close second with 12.1 percent.


So how do we stop our seniors from suffering health risks from adverse drug reactions?

Dr. David Hogan of the Health Sciences Centre in Calgary put together a useful tip sheet for avoiding adverse reactions. He recommends that patients:

(1) Know their medication – names and why they are taking them;

(2) Communicate with their doctor and pharmacist about ALL of their medication, and;

(3) Organize their drugs so they don’t mix up medications or end up taking their partner’s drugs by mistake.

A suggestion

Perhaps doctors should recommend certain organizational systems for seniors on multiple medications. For example, doctors can take the initiative in providing or recommending labeled plastic weekly dispensers.

Also, if you are close to a senior who uses multiple drugs it might be a good idea to double-check that they follow Dr. Hogan’s recommendations.

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