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3 Ways That Medications Impact Mental Acuity

3 Ways That Medications Impact Mental Acuity

If you notice that your aging loved one suffers from reduced mental clarity or confusion, check the side effects of all the medications that he or she is taking. As we age our bodies process medications differently and side effects may become more pronounced. You should be alert to delirium, confusion, disorientation, short-term memory recall, amnesia, stupor, coma or the loss of brain function. These are some of the side effects that can be caused by prescriptions and every day over-the-counter medications. Here is what you should be aware of when it comes to medications and their impact on cognition and mental clarity.

Seniors take an average of eight medications daily and the combinations can create unwanted side effects. When filling a new prescription always ask the pharmacist to check it against existing medications and alert you to any potentially adverse side effects.

Insomnia can be exacerbated by every day decongestants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that are prescribed to treat depression, and fast acting asthma medications called beta-agonists.

Parkinson’s disease drugs can cause dementia in 20% to 30% of patients. Parkinson’s patients are especially prone to the development of drug-induced cognitive impairments. According to an article in Medscape, early  clues to worsening cognitive function may include abnormal dreaming and sleep disturbance.

The elderly consume more over-the-counter medications than people of other ages. These medications contain potent substances that can induce delirium in older people even at low doses. They include cough/cold products, sleep aids, anti-nausea pills and liquids, and oral decongestants such as phenylpropanolamine and pseudoephedrine.

Beware of opioids. These powerful pain medications are regularly prescribed by physicians. However, they are highly addictive and can cause cognitive deficiencies in people who take them, regardless of age. According to the National Safety Council, “It is well known that larger doses of opioids are markedly impairing, leading to drowsiness, lethargy, and even death. At least one prospective study has demonstrated that those with chronic pain on opioid therapy have cognitive deficits including reduced spatial memory capacity and impaired performance in working memory assessment.”

If the physician wants to prescribe opioids to your elderly loved one, ask these questions first:

  • Is another pain medication available to control the pain?
  • What is the minimum opioid dose that will control the pain?
  • What is the shortest time frame that your loved one can take the opioid to control the pain?

Keep a close eye on your loved one while they are taking the opioid. Watch for side effects and addictive behavior. People in pain can become addicted to opioids very quickly, sometimes in as little as a month. If you see that your loved one wants to take the drug more frequently than prescribed, call the physician immediately and discuss ways to wean them off the drug.

Medications can improve quality of life for seniors when taken appropriately and in the right combination with other drugs. Family Matters caregivers can help. Our trained at-home caregivers will keep a close eye on your loved one and report to you any unusual behaviors or changes. When you want peace of mind ask Family Matters to support you in caring for your aging loved one.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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