What are some medications that can cause side effects in older adults?

Anne Fabiny
Geriatric Medicine
Popular over-the-counter drugs that can cause side effects in older adults -- often listed on the label as dry mouth, blurred vision, and confused thinking -- include antihistamines used to treat allergies, colds, and coughs. There are literally dozens of these products lining drugstore shelves; check the ingredient list for brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, and diphenhydramine, all of which have these side effects. Doctors sometimes recommend that people take diphenhydramine (better known by its trade name, Benadryl) to help them fall asleep. In fact, diphenhydramine is also the main ingredient in many over-the-counter sleep aids, such as Compoz, Sominex, and Unisom, as well as Tylenol PM.

Among prescription drugs, the prime culprits include certain ones used to treat depression, such as amitriptyline (Elavil) and nortriptyline (Aventyl, Pamelor); overactive bladder, such as oxybutynin (Ditropan, Urotrol, and other brands); and heartburn, such as cimetidine (Tagamet) and ranitidine (Zantac).
Numerous medications should be avoided by elderly people, as they can have adverse effects that do not occur with younger patients. There are several reasons for this difference, including that older patients tend to process drugs more slowly.

Some more popular medications that should be avoided include: any anticholinergic agents such as Benadryl; blood pressure medications such as clonidine, spironolactone and nifedipine; sedative medications such as Ativan, Xanax and Ambien; gastrointestinal medications such as mineral oil and metoclopramide; antidepressant medications such as amitriptyline and Wellbutrin; and pain medications such as ibuprofen and naproxyn.

Consult your doctor before starting or stopping any medication.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.