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Seniors get mental health drugs at twice the rate of other adults
That raises questions about whether they could be at risk of problems caused by a collision of multiple medications - and about whether primary care doctors may need more support to care for older people with depression, anxiety and other conditions.
The worry of previous decades - that America's seniors weren't receiving attention for mental health issues - may now need to shift, says Donovan Maust, M.D., M.S., the geriatric psychiatrist who led the analysis.
"Our findings suggest that psychotropic medication use is widespread among older adults in outpatient care, at a far higher rate than among younger patients," he says. "In many cases, especially for milder depression and anxiety, the safer treatment for older adults who are already taking multiple medications for other conditions might be more therapy-oriented, but very few older adults receive this sort of care."
The issue of medication use is particularly concerning for older adults, because the risk / benefit balance can shift as they become more likely to experience side effects or other adverse events.
Antidepressants can interact with blood thinners and painkillers and can raise blood pressure, all of which are more likely to be problems for older adults, who are generally on more medications than their younger counterparts.
"We need to pay special attention to polypharmacy, or multiple drugs taken at once, when prescribing psychotropic drugs in this population, because so many older adults are already on multiple medications," says Maust, an assistant professor in the U-M Department of Psychiatry.
Researchers examined four types of visits: ones where patients received a mental health diagnosis; saw a psychiatrist; received psychotherapy; and/or received a prescription or renewal of a psychotropic medication (including antidepressants, anxiety-calming drugs called anxiolytics, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, or stimulant drugs).
"While it's still true that we have patients who are not getting treated for mental health concerns, these data suggest that we also need to be mindful of the possibility of overtreatment, especially given the changing balance of risk and benefit as patients age," says Maust. "Collaborative care efforts in primary care that seek to create structure and support for these patients, along with appropriate reimbursement for this type of service, could be key."
University of Michigan Medical School and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
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