What is the Beers List of Medications?

One of the tricky parts of aging well is that medications we need may affect older bodies and minds differently. In fact, there are so many medications that may cause or worsen problems in seniors that the American Geriatric Society keeps and regularly updates a list of them. The Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults, also known as the “Beers list,” helps doctors, pharmacists, and patients make the best possible treatment decisions. Here’s what older adults and caregivers need to know about the Beers list and the drugs it includes.

Who is the Beers Criteria list meant for?

The complete list is intended for use by doctors and pharmacists, but patients and caregivers can also use it to double-check their prescription and over-the-counter medications for possible problems. The full document, the 2015 AGS Beers Criteria and Evidence Tables, runs more than 600 pages, so it’s not the sort of thing you can fold up and put in your pocket. But if you’re concerned about a loved one’s medication regimen, or your own, you can download a copy for reference. (You’ll need to create a free non-member account in order to download documents from the AGS’ Geriatrics Care Online site.)

Why are medications included on the Beers list?

The authors of the Beers Criteria are careful to point out that drugs on the list are not always problematic for older adults, but there is evidence that they could potentially cause problems in some geriatric patients, especially those with existing health problems like heart disease or a history of falls. The Beers Criteria also includes a list of known drug-drug interactions that have the potential to cause harm in seniors.

For example, the list recommends against the use of estrogen patches and pills for older women who have urinary incontinence, because there’s evidence that these drugs can worsen incontinence. And there are many medicines which should be avoided or prescribed at a lower than normal dose for older patients with kidney problems.

What if your medicine is on the Beers list?

The AGS and other senior health professionals are clear on the first step: Don’t stop your prescribed medications without talking to your doctor first. The risks of stopping the drugs may outweigh any potential safety concerns.

Ask your doctor if your medicines are on the Beers list and, if so, whether there are alternatives that might work better for you. Remember that medications on the list are there because of potential, not definite, problems. Ask your doctor and pharmacist what changes in health or behavior to watch for while taking your medications, and report any problems to your doctor as soon as you notice them.

What are the best practices for safe use of prescription and OTC medication?

For all medications you or your loved one take—and especially for any that are on the Beers Criteria list—it’s a good idea to follow some best practices recommended by geriatricians. First, keep a written and up-to-date list of all prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements you take, and carry it with you in case you need to go to the ER. Next, the AGS recommends that you ask your doctor these questions about each medicine in your regimen:

– What’s this medication for?

– How will you know if it’s working properly?

– When and how should you take the medication, and what if you miss a dose?

– Will the drug have an effect on other medical conditions you have?

– Will it interact with any other medications or supplements you take?

The Beers list is a tool you and your doctors can use to start a discussion and protect your health or the health of someone you care for. Keep track of all medications and learn about each one so you’re better prepared to spot any problems before they become serious. Ask questions and communicate your concerns so your healthcare providers can prescribe the safest possible options.

2015 AGS Beers Criteria: What's New Infographic

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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