Frailty is Linked to Taking Multiple Medications

Senior woman taking daily medications

Frailty has been linked to increased risk of falling, injuries, longer hospital stays, poorer quality of life, and higher mortality. As such, it can be a major health issue for some older adults. This MIDUS study looked at whether taking multiple prescription medications is associated with being frail, and if so, whether a certain number of medications is significant.

There were 328 people between the ages of 65-85 included in the study. Researchers looked at:

    • Polypharmacy: whether a person was taking 5 or more prescription medications.
    • Frailty: defined as having 3 or more of the following:
      • exhaustion (agreement with “I felt that everything I did was an effort” and “I could not get going”)
      • low physical activity (less than 20 minutes of exercise three times a week)
      • slow walking speed (assessed by how long it took to walk 50 feet)
      • muscle weakness (measured by grip strength)
      • weight loss.

Results showed that:

    • Number of medications and polypharmacy were significantly related to being frail.
    • Taking six or more medications distinguished frail from non-frail participants.

Other research has shown that taking six or more prescription medications was associated with increased risk of experiencing adverse side effects, as well as increased risk of falls. These results suggest that addressing polypharmacy in the older population may reduce the problem of frailty and other significant health issues. However, the researchers note that future studies should include longitudinal studies that look at data from multiple time points, since the current data from one point in time cannot establish what came first– did polypharmacy lead to frailty or did frailty lead to polypharmacy? Future research that looks at the types of medications that are associated with frailty could also be beneficial.

Source:  Alqahtani, B. (2023). Number of medications and polypharmacy are associated with frailty in older adults: Results from the Midlife in the United States study. Frontiers in Public Health, 11, Article 1148671.


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