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Many Older Americans Misuse Antibiotics: Poll

HealthDay News
by -- Steven Reinberg
Updated: Nov 5th 2019

new article illustration

TUESDAY, Nov. 5, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- A new poll delivers good and bad news: Half of American seniors report taking antibiotics in the last two years, but many also say they have misused them.

As many as 1 in 5 say they take leftover antibiotics without checking with their doctor, and 2 in 5 expect doctors to prescribe them for viral conditions, which don't respond to antibiotics.

Even though 89% of older adults know that overuse of antibiotics may mean the drugs won't work in the future, they still overuse them, researchers found.

"We obviously have work to do to help older adults understand safe and appropriate use of these medications so that we can preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for patients who need them most," said poll director Dr. Preeti Malani, from the University of Michigan.

These findings are based on responses to questions from the university's National Poll on Healthy Aging, released Nov. 4. The poll included more than 2,250 U.S. adults aged 50 to 80.

"These findings should be a reminder to physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other providers to step up their wise-prescribing practices and patient education," Malani said in a Michigan news release.

The researchers also found that:

  • One in 8 had leftover pills, even though a course of antibiotics for an illness is supposed to be finished completely.
  • Although 56% said that doctors overprescribe antibiotics, 23% said they didn't prescribe them when they should. Overprescribing antibiotics has led to a significant increase in bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

"It's important to remember that antibiotics don't treat viruses like colds and flu, and shouldn't be prescribed unless necessary," said Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research for AARP, which helped fund the poll. "If you want to avoid getting the flu, be sure to wash your hands regularly, stay home if you feel sick and get an annual flu shot."

More information

Are you misusing antibiotics? Find out more from the Mayo Clinic.