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Many nursing home patients get wrong drugs, study says

Doctors are prescribing a slew of unnecessary or even dangerous drugs to nursing home patients, according to a study published Wednesday.

Forty percent of elderly patients in Los Angeles-area nursing homes got at least one wrong prescription from their doctor and fully 7 percent of all prescriptions were inappropriate, said the study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

In the first comprehensive effort to evaluate drug use in nursing homes, researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles also said 10 percent of the patients got two or more wrong drugs at the same time.

Women were more likely to be given drugs than men _ and more likely to be given the wrong drugs. Further, the number of inappropriate prescriptions was higher in big nursing homes.

The magazine also published a separate study that found 10 percent of elderly patients in two Iowa counties _ who did not live in nursing homes _ reported adverse drug reactions.

Older Americans may make more than 2-million visits to their doctor each year just to clear up problems with drugs, the researchers said.

In an editorial, the magazine called for expanded use of computerized medical records to give doctors more complete patient information and avoid drug complications.

Nursing home patients are given drugs more often than other Americans and are also more likely to suffer side effects from their use.

The UCLA study looked at drugs prescribed to 1,106 patients over the age of 65 in a dozen Los Angeles-area nursing homes. The researchers collected a month's worth of data from each nursing home from August 1990 to May 1991.

A panel of experts who evaluated the findings said 51 percent of the inappropriate prescriptions involved drugs that should not have been used in nursing homes at all. Patients over the age of 85 were given fewer drugs and were less likely to get wrong prescriptions, they said.

The second study by University of Iowa researchers looked at more than 3,000 elderly individuals in two counties who did not live in nursing homes.

It found 10 percent reported one or more adverse drug reaction, and half those contacted their doctor. The researchers said the study probably underreported reactions.