How Aging Affects Your Response to Medications

  • Barbara Eruo


Our Bodies' Responses Change As We Get Older

As we get older, it becomes more and more important to pay attention to the ways in which our bodies are changing. People often first think of the visible signs, like wrinkles and shortened height. But, there is a lot that goes on within the body that cannot be seen. Unfortunately, many of those changes cause the body to lose some degree of its functionality. The collective effect of these changes is called aging (1).

Although aging is a part of life, there are some things you can do to make it as comfortable as possible. People commonly choose to plan their diets, take medications and supplements, and/or exercise often in the attempt to keep themselves fit.

One of the biggest issues is that, for most people, their body fat increases while their total body water decreases with time. As a result, lipid soluble drugs tend to collect more in the body since there is more fat tissue to store them.

In addition, water soluble drugs tend to reach higher concentrations in the body because there is less water to dilute them. These variations are important for health professionals to keep in mind when drafting up medical routines with their patients (2).

In general, aging brings about changes in the absorption rates of the body, distribution across body compartments, metabolism, and excretion processes of the body in relation to drugs. For example, the elasticity of the aorta and great arteries decreases. Clearance from the liver and kidneys also becomes noticeably less effective. This slows down the excretion of many drugs from the body, which means that clinicians need to reduce doses accordingly (2).

Practice Caution When Deciding What to Take

So, older adults need to exercise more caution when using medications. They are more likely to be on multiple drugs, increasing the chance of drug interactions (3). More specifically, about 90% of older adults regularly take at least 1 prescription drug, with about 80% regularly taking 2 drugs, and around 36% taking at least 5 drugs. If you add in over-the-counter drugs and supplements, the number is even higher (3).

This becomes even more of an issue when coupled with the fact that older people are more than twice as susceptible to adverse side effects as younger people. In at least 25% of these cases, the adverse side effects can be prevented with proper care and attention (3).

Some steps can be taken in order to take drugs and supplements more effectively. The biggest tip is to read about and understand the drugs that are being advised and what conditions they are being used to treat.

Taking it a step further, make sure to read the instructions carefully and know how to use the drug correctly. By staying on top of things, you can exercise some degree of control over your condition and be prepared for every doctor checkup.






1. Mangoni, A. A., & Jackson, S. H. (2004). Age-related changes in pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics: basic principles and practical applications. British journal of clinical pharmacology57(1), 6–14. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2125.2003.02007.x

2. Ruscin, J. M., & Linnebur, S.A. (2018). Pharmacokinetics in Older Adults. Merck manual professional version.

3. Ruscin, J. M., & Linnebur, S.A. (2018). Drug-Related Problems in Older Adults. Merck manual professional version.



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