The nation’s elderly patients last year used a total of 6.2 billion dosages of various oral medications and each was estimated to have consumed more than 2,000 pills, according to the latest Ministry of Health and Welfare statistics.
On average, an elderly patient sees a doctor 26.46 times a year, National Health Insurance Administration data showed.
The most common disease or condition among elderly patients was acute respiratory infection, followed by high blood pressure and diabetes, administration data showed.
Elderly patients last year spent NT$69.3 billion (US$2.32 billion) on medicine, 40.7 percent of the entire nation’s bill for medicine, with half being medicine for cardiovascular diseases, data showed.
Elderly patients tend to take more medicine because they often have multiple conditions, Taipei Veterans General Hospital Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology director Chen Liang-kung (陳亮恭) said.
Unlike younger patients, elderly patients have to take medicine for almost every one of their health conditions, he said.
Because hospital departments are divided into smaller units with smaller areas of expertise, elderly patient often have to consult more then one doctor, he said.
For example, when an elderly patient develops a headache from taking a certain type of medicine, they might have to see a different doctor who specializes in that field, he said, adding that this would increase the amount of medicine a patient is taking.
Many elderly patients taking Western medicine experience anti-cholinergic effects, he said.
The symptoms include a dry mouth, diminished bowel movement, inability to concentrate and poor coordination, which could lead to falls and injuries, he added.
Long-term use of Western medicine can also increase the risk of dementia in elderly patients, he said.
Elderly patients need a different set of standards for symptom control, Chen said, urging the government to promote integration of hospital departments to provide better medical care for elderly patients and to increase the budget for non-drug treatments, such as nutrient therapy and muscle coordination training.
Research has found that 90 percent of elderly people take at least five different types of medicine, with one-third of them having to do so over the course of six months, National Taiwan University Hospital Jhudong Branch head Chan Ding-cheng (詹鼎正) said.
People in their 60s typically have two diseases or conditions, while those in their 70s usually have three and those in their 80s four, Taichung Hospital chair professor Lee Meng-chih (李孟智) said.
In most cases, multiple diseases or conditions develop because one of them has not been properly treated in the first place, Lee said.
For example, diabetes that has not been properly treated can lead to a hardening of the arteries, which can then cause cardiovascular disease or even kidney failure, he said.
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