Self-medicating elderly facing side-effects: Doctors

The elderly are getting carried away by WhatsApp forwards, pharmacy advertising and free advise coming from their children

Picture: Pixabay

As Covid continues to rage, many senior citizens have started consuming more than five tablets in a row, which is termed “polypharmacy”, without consulting physicians, to avoid contracting the disease or to reduce their pre-existing conditions. But in many instances, it has only led worsening of their condition.

Health professionals said that Covid has led to fear and anxiety among people and many are living in denial, refusing to accept their clinical diagnosis, but resorting self-diagnosis and medication. The elderly are getting carried away by WhatsApp forwards, pharmacy advertising and free advise coming from their children. As a consequence, they are not taking required medicines, but are consuming a large amounts of unwanted medications, which can do more harm than good. 

A 60-year-old patient had loose stools, fever and myalgia. Instead of consulting a medical expert, he started taking medicines himself. His condition only worsened and when he was diagnosed later, he was found to be Covid-positive, requiring immediate treatment. Dr Bindumathi P L, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Aster CMI Hospital, said, “Whenever someone falls sick, they immediately Google their symptoms to search for treatment and medications.

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But self-diagnosis is not always accurate and though it can partially mask a condition for some time, it can have a detrimental impact in the long term.” Dr Ravindra M Mehta, Senior Consultant; HoD, Pulmonology, Interventional pulmonology, Apollo Speciality Hospitals, Jayanagar, said, “The elderly are used to taking a large number of medicines, because of high incidence of co-morbidities, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and other issues.

Because of the fear of Covid-19, there has been a tendency to take more over-the-counter immunity-boosting agents, like vitamin C and zinc. This has been going on for long because of the nature of the pandemic. But it comes with its own side-effects and prolonged use can lead to intolerance such as gastro-intestinal issues.

Also, the elderly have not been able to visit their doctors to adjust and reduce medications.” Dr Sheela Chakravarthy, Director, Internal Medicine; Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, said “Polypharmacy has made patients ignore indicated medicines and consume large amounts of unwanted drugs. For instance, skipping anti-hypertensive medications for some vitamin supplements could cause more harm than good.”

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