Healthcare: On the Agenda - Combined pills risk to older people

In a nutshell

Hundreds of thousands of older people are putting themselves at risk of death or brain dysfunction by combining commonly used drugs. Scientists from the University of East Anglia and the University of Kent found that 80 widely used drugs, when used in combination, were found to increase the risk of serious health problems, including dementia and death.

Why is it important?

The study was the first systematic investigation into the long-term health impacts of anticholinergic activity - a side effect of many prescription and over-the-counter drugs. This can affect the brain by blocking a key neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.

The study

More than 13,000 men and women aged 65 and over from across the UK were included in the two-year study. Each drug was given a ranking based on its anticholinergic activity, or anticholinergic burden (ACB). Many of the drugs, when taken in combination, were found to more than treble an elderly patient's chance of death within two years.

PR strategy

The media outreach for the research was handled in-house by Simon Dunford in the University of East Anglia's comms office. A press briefing at the Science Media Centre was attended by around 20 journalists.

Media coverage

The coverage was extensive on 24 June. Highlights included the lead story on the BBC home page, the front page of The Daily Telegraph and page 10 of the Daily Mail. - 13k men and women aged 65 and over were included in the two-year study

- 20% of those taking drugs with a total ACB of four or more had died by the end of the two-year study.

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