Heed These Warnings About Aging Parents’ Medications

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Is your aging parent one of the many battling Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia and taking medication? Dr. Elizabeth Landsverk, a Silicon Valley, California-based geriatrician, recently quoted in an article in The Mercury News, strongly advises against elders taking certain everyday medications as they undo any benefits of other prescribed medications. Landsverk has an impressive background. She is an adjunct professor of medicine at Stanford University and is triple board certified in geriatrics, internal and palliative medicines.

Choline is a chemical that brain cells need to communicate with each other and is found in medications that seek to treat dementia. Dr. Landsverk advises that medication for the senior brain works differently than on a younger one.

“It’s interesting; I’m contrary to what’s often done out in the community for behavioral issues in elders,” Landsverk said. “I follow the academic geriatric principal and the Beers Criteria List, which list meds that probably shouldn’t be given to elders as they have worse side effects than they do in younger adults.”

Landsverk is the founder of ElderConsult, a geriatric medicine practice that provides in-house calls primarily to senior patients with dementia or agitation throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. During these house calls, she looks at her a comprehensive list of all of the medications her patients are taking and determines which can be removed.

Many common medications that an elder may take every day are anticholinergic, which means they decrease levels of choline. For example, antihistamines like Benadryl, anti-anxiety medications like Ativan and Xanax, and antidepressants such as Prozac and Cymbalta are all anticholinergic. Dr. Landsverk has a complete list of anticholinergic medications that can be found on her website, here.

When an elder takes an anticholinergic, she is likely to become more confused and experience worsening of dementia, memory loss, and agitation. Some additional complications can include dry mouth, lightheadedness, blurred vision, constipation, difficulty starting and continuing to urinate and loss of bladder control. In other words, some prescribed as well as over the counter medications often do more harm than good to elders.

Dr. Landsverk does not prescribe sleeping medication like Ambien or benzodiazepines like Xanax or Ativan because they are a recipe for reduced brain function and agitation. “Xanax is short-acting and even if taken as directed could make you more anxious in between doses; it’s the ‘crack of benzos.’ Xanax in elders with dementia could cause irritation and agitation, and stopping the prescription can put some into withdrawal”, she said.

Some medications are good for elders, Dr. Landsverk says, such as low-dose aspirin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and Tylenol to control pain. Some types of antidepressants can work well for elders. Every elder is different. Before making any changes to your aging parent’s medication, be sure to consult their physicians. Adult children can be the watchers over their aging parents’ welfare including their medical regimens. To learn other ways to best keep your aging loved ones safe, check out our helpful book The Family Guide to Aging Parents at AgingParents.com. You can download it here too!

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