Although half of older adults have been helped by antibiotics in the past two years, a sizable minority didn't follow the instructions on their pill bottle, according to the results of a new University of Michigan-AARP poll of adults ages 50 to 80.
One in 5 respondents to the poll said they take leftover antibiotics without checking with medical professionals, a practice that researchers say is risky. Two in 5 said they expect doctors to prescribe antibiotics for a cold. These medications, however, don't work on colds and other illnesses caused by viruses; antibiotics fight infections.
"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,” says poll director Preeti Malani, M.D., a specialist in both infectious diseases and geriatric medicine. “These findings should be a reminder to physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other providers to step up their wise-prescribing practices and patient education."
One in 8 older adults said they had leftover pills from their last antibiotic prescription, even though most prescriptions require the patient to take all doses of the drug. Of the 13 percent who held on to the remaining medication, most said they saved it in case they or a family member developed an infection. Only 1 in 5 respondents disposed of the pills safely.
Those in their 50s and early 60s were much more likely to use leftover antibiotics than those over 65.
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"It's important to remember that antibiotics don't treat viruses like colds and flu and shouldn't be prescribed unless necessary,” cautions Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research at AARP. “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."