Older adults are prescribed mental health drugs at more than twice the rate of younger adults, but are much less likely to see a psychiatrist, according to a new study.
Elderly people who take Valium, Xanax and Ativan to treat anxiety are at a higher risk of falls, fractures, and increased declines in cognitive abilities, the researchers said. If antidepressants are taken along with blood thinners and painkillers, they can raise blood pressure, UPI reports.
"Our findings suggest that psychotropic medication use is widespread among older adults in outpatient care, at a far higher rate than among younger patients," lead researcher Dr. Donovan Maust, a geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Michigan, said in a press release. "In many cases, especially for milder depression and anxiety, the safer treatment for older adults who are already taking multiple medications for other conditions might be more therapy-oriented, but very few older adults receive this sort of care."
The researchers analyzed data from more than 100,000 doctor visits. They included visits where patients received a mental health diagnosis, saw a psychiatrist, received psychotherapy, or were given a prescription or renewal of a psychotropic medication.
They found adults over age 65 had an average of 63 visits per 100 people for antidepressants and 62 visits per 100 people for anti-anxiety drugs. In contrast, younger adults had 36 visits per 100 people for antidepressants and 29 visits per 100 people for anti-anxiety drugs.
Older adults had an average of 6.3 visits to a psychiatrist annually, compared with 12 visits per year for younger adults.
"While it's still true that we have patients who are not getting treated for mental health concerns, these data suggest that we also need to be mindful of the possibility of overtreatment, especially given the changing balance of risk and benefit as patients age," Maust said.
The study appears in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.