Barbara's Blog

How to identify risky medications for older adults

Guest Expert Blogger: 
Leslie Kernisan, MD MPH

Many family caregivers know that medications can cause side-effects in older people, and may worry that perhaps their loved ones are being affected by medications.

It’s a very reasonable concern to have. Studies have shown that older adults, especially those taking multiple prescription medications, often experience potentially serious side-effects from their medications.

Today, as I was giving a talk on geriatrics at a Family Caregiver Alliance retreat, the topic of medication side effects came up.

This was a terrific group of fairly experienced caregivers, almost all of whom had been caring for one (or sometimes more than one!) loved one for years. So many in the group had already identified several useful online resources for health information and support.

But most of them didn’t realize that the American Geriatrics Society’s Beer’s Criteria list is available online.

What is the Beer’s Criteria? It’s a carefully reviewed list of medications that are “potentially inappropriate” for older adults, and includes many of the medications that we geriatricians tend to stop or reduce in our patients. (Seriously, identifying and reducing these medications is a big part of my clinical practice!)

Although mainly meant to be used as a reference by clinicians, the American Geriatrics Society(AGS)  also provides the information in an easier-to-read format here.

What to do if you realize that you or a loved one is taking a potentially risky medication? Conveniently, AGS addresses this very issue and provides a handy online guide on “What to Do and What to Ask Your Healthcare Provider if a Medication You Take is Listed in the Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medications to Use in Older Adults.”

If you’re a caregiver: Have you ever used the Beer’s list as a resource? Other ideas for how caregivers can be empowered to check on their loved one’s medications?

Leslie Kernisan, MD MPH, is a practicing geriatrician with a special interest in educating and empowering family caregivers. For tips on better healthcare for aging adults, and information about upcoming caregiver education events, visit her website at

She will be leading free Q & A calls for caregivers. Her next Q & A call will be January 28. Please check her website for more details.

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