The Relationship Between Number of Medications and Weight Loss or Impaired Balance in Older Adults

The current study explored the nature and extent of the relationship between the number of medications older persons take, or medication exposure, and negative medical effects.

Individuals of at least 72 years of age who were part of a larger sample taken from a northeastern, urban community participated in the study. The 885 participants did not reside in nursing homes and were interviewed by nurses in their homes as part of the study. Social/demographic, medical and functional data were collected. Negative medical effects were operationalized as either weight loss or impaired balance. Participants were mostly women, an average age of 81, and took an average of 2.2 medications and 1.6 preparations (e.g., vitamins) per day. Multiple logistic regressions were conducted.

The resulting odds ratios (ORs) showed that for each increase in medication exposure there was an increase in the likelihood of weight loss and impaired balance even when age, sensory and cognitive impairment, numbers of chronic diseases and of hospitalizations, and depressive symptoms were controlled for in the analysis. The adjusted odds ratio for participants who took 1-2 medications was 1.48 (95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.85–2.59) for weight loss and 1.44 (95% CI = 0.94–2.19) for impaired balance. For those who took five or more medications adjusted ORs for weight loss and impaired balance were 2.78 (95% CI = 1.38–5.60) and 1.80 (95% CI = 1.02–3.19), respectively. Certain drugs were related to negative medical effects but results emphasized the cumulative effect of medication exposure for older persons.