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How Your Age Affects Medications

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By Frieda Wiley, PharmD, RPhJune 03, 2019

Our age affects the way we look, think, and act – it also changes the way we respond to medications. Medications that are OK to use during certain stages of our lives may be dangerous during others.

When we’re young, some medications can interfere with our body’s normal development. For example, corticosteroids that are used for so many health conditions are usually only given to growing children for long periods of time when absolutely necessary because they could stunt the child’s growth. In other cases, some medications should be avoided in children because their bodies have not developed to the point where they can process these medications in a healthy way. For example, some creams, ointments, and gels should never be applied to babies’ skin because immature skin lacks a barrier strong enough to prevent dangerous levels of the drugs from seeping into the bloodstream.

As we move into our older years, even if we stay the same size and shape as our younger selves, aging changes the way our bodily systems function – and how they process medication. Factors such as your muscle mass, amount of body fat, liver activity, and kidney function affect how your body responds to different medicines. Even if you maintain a healthy weight throughout your life, body fat increases with age. More body fat can affect how long some medications stay in your tissues, so it may take longer for your body to get rid of the drug. Because these features change with age regardless of how healthy you may be, they can alter the way a medication works in your body.

Skin medications also affect us differently as we get older. Since our skin becomes thinner with age, our bodies may absorb higher levels of the active ingredients in creams, gels, rubs, patches, and lotions than we once did.

If you have questions about how your age might affect your response to a new medication – or one you’ve been on for years – speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

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