Prescription Drug Use Increases with Age Presenting Potential Problems for Caregivers

The number of medications, potential drug interactions, and managing proper use is just a few of the problems of getting older. Care recipients, caregivers, and families face challenges ensuring proper drug use.

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Prescription Drug Use Increases with Age Presenting Potential Problems for Caregivers
6 Min Read October 27th, 2021

The next time you are at the pharmacy, look around and see the number of older people in line and the number of bottles they are leaving with. The older we get, the more drugs we take.

More than 131 million people — nearly 70 percent of all adults in the United States — use prescription drugs. Utilization is exceptionally high for older people and those with chronic conditions.

Plus, more than half take two medications, according to Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center research from several years ago. The CDC reports that 24% of people are used three or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days.

Older You Get – The More Meds You Take

CDC data shows that those aged 60 and older take more medications than the rest of the population.

A bar chart showing the percentage of persons who used one or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days, by age and sex in the United States from 2015 through 2016.


As we get older, we suffer from more chronic health problems. The Georgetown University Health Institute reports that three-quarters of those aged 50 to 64 use prescription drugs. However, prescription drug use increases with age as 91 percent of those age 80 and older with prescriptions. The average number of medications filled increases with age, from 13 for 50 to 64 to 22 for 80 and older.

A bar chart showing the use of one or more and five or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days among adults aged 40–79, in the United States in 2015–2016 and Canada in 2016–2017.

Use of one or more and five or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days among adults aged 40–79: United States, 2015–2016, and Canada, 2016–2017 - SOURCES: NCHS, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2015–2016, and Statistics Canada, Canadian Health Measures Survey, 2016–2017.

Older adults are the largest users of prescription medications. While seniors want to avoid being dependent on others as they get older, their lack of ability to manage their medications properly is often one of the reasons an individual needs in-home care or care in a long-term care facility.

Women Given More Meds Than Men

Managing all the medications older people are given is part of the problem are the number of medications being given to older people. Women also are prescribed more medications than men.

A bar chart showing the use of one or more and five or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days among adults aged 40–79, by sex, in the United States in 2015–2016 and Canada in 2016–2017.

Use of one or more and five or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days among adults aged 40–79, by sex: United States, 2015–2016, and Canada, 2016–2017. SOURCES: NCHS, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2015–2016, and Statistics Canada, Canadian Health Measures Survey, 2016–2017.

Nonadherence to Medication Management Often Reason for Nursing Home Use

Often nonadherence to medication management is a major reason for nursing home placement, with an estimated 3 million older adults being admitted to nursing homes due to drug-related problems.

In addition, the older you are, the more likely you may have an adverse reaction to medications. However, perhaps the biggest concern is the large number of drugs an older person may take. Adverse drug reactions can become common, especially if several doctors prescribe medications and fill them in different pharmacies. 

Health care professionals generally will screen medication use for those age 65 and older. Some drugs present a higher risk of side effects and may not work as well with older individuals. Doctors and pharmacists look at safer or more effective medications or non-medication remedies depending on the diagnosis.

Older people often have reduced kidney function, and those with reduced kidney function may react poorly to certain medications.

Avoiding Missed or Incorrect Doses

Medication management for seniors is essential, and the goal is to avoid missed or incorrect doses. People with cognitive decline may forget to take medication or misuse their drugs. The meds are intended to effectively treat health conditions and manage symptoms a person may have, and incorrect use can adversely affect the person's overall health.

Family caregivers are often not educated in medication management as well. Since people are taking so many meds keeping track can be problematic for the family.

Michael Banner, Host of the 62WhoKnew Television Show and columnist for LTC NEWS, said there is no doubt, the older we get, the more prescriptions we are given by our various doctors. When he was a caregiver for his father, he saw this firsthand.

Mike Banner

"At 81 years old, with multiple serious illnesses that included Congestive Heart Failure and Diabetes, managing his more than 20 medications per day, which included testing his sugar and giving him an injection of insulin, was virtually impossible."

Families Need Professional Help

Banner said without professional help, he could have never made sure his father was given the correct dosages seven days a week at the right times.

Having professional caregivers will help reduce the stress on families and ensure the correct medications are being given to the care recipient. The medicines are expensive, but the proper caregivers are also costly.

"Quality care takes money, either from Long-Term Care Insurance or self-funding," Banner explained.

He says one source of funding for those over age 62 is a reverse mortgage. A reverse mortgage can fund the purchase of a Long-Term Care Insurance policy to pay for badly needed in-home care if an individual's health does not allow for purchasing an LTC policy.

"Who knew living longer would be so complicated and so expensive," Banner said.

Aging Happens and We Decline with Age

As we get older, our bodies change as our health declines. Being prepared for aging should be a vital part of retirement planning to avoid the crisis many families face today with their older loved ones.

Being a caregiver is a huge responsibility. Family caregivers are usually untrained and unprepared for the stress and burden that comes with the job. The job of a caregiver is more than just providing care. The role comes with management responsibilities to ensure everything is in place to give the best quality of life for an individual with challenges due to illness or aging. 

Getting ahead of the curve will reduce the stress otherwise placed on adult children. For those without children, it becomes more complicated. Most Long-Term Care Insurance policies come with case management services that help the family ensure the proper care is being provided. However, without close family members, the case managers can become advocates as well. 

Preparing for Aging Vital for Retirement Planning

Experts say the ideal time to obtain coverage is when you are in your 40s or 50s, as the ability to qualify for a policy is dependent on your health. Premiums are based on several factors, including age, health, and family history, in addition to the total amount of benefits being purchased.

Banner recommends speaking with an expert when shopping for coverage and deciding on options. You can find a qualified specialist here - Work With a Specialist | LTC News.

Meanwhile, be involved with your older family members, understand their health problems, know the doctors they see and get a list of medications they take.

When a doctor prescribes a new medication, make sure it is necessary and ask how the new med interacts with the existing drugs.

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About the Author

Linda is a freelance writer interested in retirement planning, health and aging.

LTC News Contributor Linda Kople

Linda Kople

Contributor since October 31st, 2017

Editor's Note

Getting older can be tricky, not just on you - but your family too. The consequences of longevity are numerous, and we experience changes in health, body, and mind. Often these changes mean we need help, but few of us want to be dependent on anyone, especially our families. 

The cost of long-term health care services gets more costly every year and adversely affects your income, assets, lifestyle, and legacy. Many times the adult children must step in to provide care which places a burden on them.

There is a solution - affordable Long-Term Care Insurance. You will have the guaranteed tax-free resources to pay for your choice of quality care, including at home. When you own a solution, your loved ones will have the time to be family instead of being caregivers. 

The time to obtain coverage is before retirement, ideally in your 40s or 50s. 

Available Resources on LTC NEWS

The resources on LTC NEWS will help you learn about your options to plan for aging's financial costs and burdens. As you prepare for your future retirement, better consider the physical, emotional, and financial burdens that get placed on you and your loved ones. 

You can compare the major insurance companies that offer Long-Term Care Insurance products here - Top Insurers for Long-Term Care Insurance | LTC News.

The Ultimate Long-Term Care Guide is an outstanding read to help you get a good overview of the topic area. 

There are also available tax incentives, and see if these tax incentives are helpful by reviewing the Long-Term Care Tax Benefits Guide.

Find all the resources on LTC NEWS - Resources for Long-Term Care Planning | LTC News.

Use the LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator and find both the current and future cost of care services where you live. Click here and see the financial impact. 

Ask Mike

Mike Banner, the host of the TV show 62WhoKnew, has a segment on the show and in his column on LTC NEWS "Ask Mike."

You can ask Mike questions on aging, health, retirement planning, Long-Term Care Insurance, and reverse mortgages - Reverse Mortgages | LTC News.

Looking for Quality Caregivers? Need Help Filing an LTC Insurance Claim?

If a loved one already needs in-home care or owns a Long-Term Care Insurance policy and needs assistance filing the claim, LTC NEWS is here to help.

LTC NEWS provides free assistance with no obligation - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim | LTC News. You can also help find caregivers and get recommendations for a proper care plan, whether a person has a policy or not.

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