To help guide clinicians in choosing the safest medications for their older patients, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) publishes a list of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications typically best avoided by adults ages 65 and older. The reference is updated about every three years. In January 2019, the latest update, called the AGS Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults, was published online in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Drug warnings are based on five criteria:
- Drugs potentially inappropriate for most older adults
- Drugs that should typically be avoided in older adults with certain medical conditions
- Drugs to use with caution
- Drug-drug interactions
- Drugs that should be avoided or have their dosage reduced based on a person’s kidney function
The below chart—not meant to be all inclusive—features some of the more common medications you should try to avoid or use with caution. But just because a drug is listed in the AGS Beers Criteria doesn’t mean you should stop taking it. It’s included because it’s thought to have an increased risk unique to older adults—but it isn’t necessarily unsafe for all older adults. You may not experience side effects or, even if you do, that drug may be the best option available for treating your problem—a decision that you and your doctor should make.
We suggest that you discuss any AGS Beers Criteria drug you’re taking with your doctor, both to understand its most frequent and serious side effects and to ask whether a safer or more effective alternative is available. Many side effects are dose-related, so reducing your medication’s dose may also lower risk.
A note of caution: Never stop taking any medicine without your doctor’s approval—suddenly stopping a drug could prove to be dangerous.
This article first appeared in the May 2019 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.
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