- Friday, 13 July 2012
A great number of the elderly are being denied vital drugs that could help to save their life, it has been claimed.
Patients are routinely given statins to reduce cholesterol or pills for high blood pressure.
But many over-75s are not being offered such drugs due to GPs' worry of the possible side-effects.
The reason for this is because drug trials are rarely carried out on older patients. Consequently, there is no evidence on whether the drugs work - or are even safe.
As a result, academics from Oxford and other universities are convinced that the elderly are being “largely ignored” by the NHS’s prescribing habits.
This could suggest an age-bias approach to prescribing. Although, there is no further evidence to show that the elderly are being denied the same care as younger patients.
From October it will no longer be legal for doctors to refuse treatment due to someone's age, this was pledged by ministers.
Researchers have looked at medical records of 36,679 patients over the age of 40, from 19 GP surgeries in the West Midlands.
They discovered that once patients reached the age of 75, their chance of being prescribed statins went down dramatically. Those in their late 80s were only half as likely to be given the pills as someone in their late 60s.
Dr James Sheppard, from the University of Birmingham and a member of the research team, said statins and pills for high blood pressure “have the massive potential for benefit”.
He added: “If older patients have a heart attack or stroke it won’t necessarily kill them but it can leave them with severe disabilities. It’s not a case of necessarily saving lives, but it could vastly improve the quality of life.”
Plus, Oxford University researchers have claimed that prescribing them for healthy patients could prevent 1,000 deaths a year.
On the other hand, more recent research has suggested that they are ineffective for women and cause side-effects.
June Davison, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Available evidence would suggest that older people can benefit from heart protective drugs, but more research is needed.
“Sometimes there are good reasons for not prescribing certain medicines.
“An older person may be more vulnerable to particular side-effects, or already be on multiple medicines for other health conditions, meaning it isn’t always appropriate to prescribe additional medicines.”
This gives us evidence that statins do in fact have potential side-effects. They can cause muscle pain and digestion problems. Drugs for high blood pressure, including ace inhibitors and alpha and beta blockers, can cause drowsiness and dizziness.
Although, these drugs do help to prevent deaths, so could help to save thousands of lives a year. Whether it is safe to offer these drugs to older people, further research will be necessary to carry out.
By Rosa Di-Finizio