These Medications Can Be Extremely Dangerous for Older Adults

Prescription drugs affect everyone uniquely. How a medication reacts in a young person may be different and even dangerous for a person over 50 years old. Yet doctors often treat the symptom, not the patient.

Many physicians don’t realize there’s a list of drugs, called the Beers criteria that warns against many drugs commonly prescribed to older people. The following medications can be extremely harmful for older adults. No. 10 is probably in your medicine cabinet right now.

1. Lunesta

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Sleepy man | imtmphoto/Getty Images

Many drugs treat insomnia and help people get more sleep. However, less evidence exists that older populations benefit from meds like Lunesta. Designed to have a sedative effect on the body, this class of drugs can cause confusion and dizziness. When used in combination with other prescriptions, drugs like Lunesta can be even more dangerous.

Next: This over-the-counter drug treats heartburn.

2. Nexium

Mature man with heartburn
Man with heartburn | Milkos/Getty Images

Many people deal with heartburn and acid reflux. With the standard American diet, these numbers are expected to grow. Nexium, along with other proton pump inhibitors, can cause nutrient deficiencies, severe diarrhea, and kidney damage. As our organs age, they become less effective. So, any drug that can cause kidney damage should be used with caution, even if it’s sold over the counter.

Next: Arthritis pain and heart disease don’t mix.

3. Celebrex

Man suffering from arthritis
Arthritis pain | Seb_ra/Getty Images

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about Celebrex, which is prescribed to 11 million people annually, according to Consumer Reports. Often prescribed for arthritis and acute pain, the drug comes with a severe risk of a heart attack. Even the American Heart Association warns people at risk of heart disease about Celebrex. Most patients with arthritis are older — the same people who are at a higher risk of a cardiac event.

Next: A drug for the most common mental illness

4. Librium

Man who fell
Librium could cause falls. | Zinkevych/Getty Images

Along with other anti-anxiety drugs, like Valium and Klonopin, a side effect of Librium involves unsteadiness. People over the age of 50 are at a higher risk of fractures and breaks from falls, which often occur due to feeling dizzy and unsteady. “For older people, a break can be the start of more serious problems, such as a trip to the hospital, injury, or even disability,” reports the National Institute on Aging.

Next: This drug can overload your liver.

5. Vasotec

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Takes pills | Triocean/Getty Images

Prescribed for high blood pressure, Vasotec can save your life if you have a hypertensive event. However, it can be dangerous for people over the age of 50. Side effects include low blood pressure, liver dysfunction, and swelling in the lips, face, and tongue. Older adults are already at risk of liver problems, so doctors should prescribe a different drug.

Next: One of the most prescribed drugs for heart health

6. Lipitor

A mature man with achy knee
Muscle aches | dragana991/Getty Images

One of the most commonly prescribed drugs for heart health, Lipitor is often used to reduce “bad” cholesterol and increase “good” levels. However, it can also produce long-lasting nerve, muscle, and balance problems. Over time, Lipitor can cause memory problems, which can be especially difficult for seniors.

Next: Diabetes versus a heart attack

7. Avandia/Actos

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Measuring blood sugar | Victor_69/Getty Images

Diabetics have the vital job of managing their blood sugar. They almost always need drugs to help, but some can cause more harm than good. Avandia and Actos increase a patient’s risk of heart failure and bladder cancer. As we age, heart health and cancer become growing concerns. Plus, people with diabetes are already at a higher risk for both.

Next: Psychosis is a terrifying side effect.

8. Ambien

Elderly sleepy woman
Sleepy woman | dragana991/Getty Images

Sleeping soundly doesn’t get easier as we age. But older adults must use caution when using prescription-strength sedatives. These drugs can cause mental impairment, loss of balance, sleepwalking, episodes of psychosis, and memory loss. This could hurt the health of those 50 and older.

Next: Hallucinations on top of an already difficult disease

9. Mirapex

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Man takes pill | shironosov/Getty Images

About one million Americans live with Parkinson’s disease. And Mirapex is commonly prescribed to treat shaking and help sufferers move easier. Unfortunately, it can also cause hallucinations, sudden drops in blood pressure, and sudden sleepiness. This can increase one’s risk of falling and getting confused.

Next: Just about every American has used these.

10. NSAIDs

Aged woman taking aspirin
Taking Aspirin | fizkes/Getty Images

People often use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, incorrectly and in excess. Available at drugstores and supermarkets, this class of medications includes ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. Taking an occasional NSAID — without other drugs — may be harmless. It can’t be combined with corticosteroids, anticoagulants, or antiplatelet meds. But most seniors take other prescriptions. Misusing NSAIDs can cause GI bleeding, ulcers, and perforation.

Next: This may or may not help with panic attacks.

11. Klonopin

Elderly woman taking prescription medicine
Man takes Klonopin | Jacoblund/Getty Images

Also known as clonazepam, this drug helps regulate nerve signals in the brain. It’s often used to help people with panic attacks and seizures. The Beers criteria warn that this drug can cause dizziness. It’s unclear whether this drug is even effective for older patients. What is clear is its sedative effects, which may be dangerous for people over 50-years-old.

Next: You may be shocked to see this drug on the list.

12. Insulin (using a sliding scale)

Senior man measuring his blood sugar level
Monitoring blood sugar | Ljupco/Getty Images

Diabetes can lead to complications like blindness, organ failure, limb amputations, and even death. Managing the disease with insulin is often life-saving and necessary. Unfortunately, some physicians prescribe insulin with a sliding scale for dosage.

Basically, it means you give yourself insulin based on predetermined doses for blood sugar ranges, which can cause over- and under-dosing of insulin. For older diabetics, the Beers criteria advise avoiding the sliding scale altogether.

Next: This one’s popular but not worth the side effects.

13. Growth hormones

Elderly woman swollen feet putting on shoes
Edema is a scary condition. | Toa55/Getty Images

Some people swear growth hormones help them feel younger. But this comes with dangerous side effects for older patients. Adverse reactions include edema, arthralgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, gynecomastia, and impaired fasting blood sugar levels. It’s only advised for older adults who’ve had their pituitary gland removed.

Next: This drug causes a lot of falls each year.

14. Flexeril

Senior woman with leg cramp
Muscle pain | PORNCHAI SODA/Getty Images

Many older adults receive muscle-relaxer prescriptions due to sore muscles and the aches that come with age. But as we get older, the effectiveness changes. According to the Beers criteria, older adults don’t tolerate muscle relaxers well due to anticholinergic adverse effects (aka it blocks neurotransmitters). Flexeril can also increase fractures due to weakened muscles. Another side effect is sedation, which can cause dizziness and falling.

Next: Most people don’t even think of this as a drug.

15. Benadryl

Hand Holding Pink Medication
Taking Benadryl | Ake Dynamic/Getty Images

An over-the-counter drug, Benadryl was one of the first antihistamines created. For the most part, it’s safe. But the side effects — confusion, dizziness, dry mouth, and constipation — can increase as we age, especially if it’s used as a sedative. Tolerance to Benadryl happens quickly, which can cause a person to increase the dose beyond a safe level. (However, it’s still recommended in cases of severe allergic reactions.)