What Is Medication Fog?

As you grow older, your risk of developing illness or injury increases. Along with this comes an increase in the number of medications taken.

Nearly 40% of older adults take five or more prescription medications. In addition to the metabolic changes and reduced clearance of drugs that come with age, this creates a high risk for adverse drug reactions from medications interacting with each other.

Medication Fog

Medication fog is a type of adverse drug reaction associated with taking multiple medications. It manifests in a way that can be mistaken for dementia, with symptoms such as:

● Confusion

● Memory loss

● Poor concentration

● Disorientation

● Mood changes

● Drowsiness

● Paranoia or hallucinations

These symptoms may appear suddenly, even when no changes have been made to the medication routine—the person has changed, not the medication. Due to aging and other factors, the kidneys are less able to effectively break down and clear all of the medications from their body, leading to a buildup that can disrupt brain function and cause dementia-like symptoms.

Common medications that may contribute to brain fog include:

● sleep aids

● anti-anxiety meds

● antidepressants

● blood pressure meds

● painkillers

Other Problems Associated With Multiple Medication Use

In addition to confusion, memory loss, and other dementia-like symptoms, polypharmacy (the use of 5 or more medications) can lead to an increased risk for hip fractures. This is because the medications can lead to falls, dizziness, impaired balance, weakness, exhaustion, and reduced bone density.

It can also lead to a situation known as “prescribing cascades.” If a medication provokes an adverse reaction, a physician might prescribe an additional medication to deal with that side effect, leading to a cycle of more and more medications and more and more potential side effects.

This can be especially problematic when side effects from a drug are mistaken for a separate medical condition. For example, if medication fog is wrongly believed to be dementia, the person may be prescribed additional medications to manage dementia. That could potentially lead to an even higher risk of adverse drug reactions without any real improvement in cognition or function.

How to Reduce the Risk of Medication Fog

Drug interactions, side effects, and other problems associated with taking multiple medications are unavoidable for many older adults. But there are a few ways to reduce the risk:

● Keep an updated list of all medicines (both prescribed and over-the-counter), supplements, and vitamins you are taking.

● List any allergies or negative reactions you have ever experienced with drugs.

● Also, note when you started, stopped, or changed the dosage of each medication.

● Share as much information as possible with all of your doctors regarding what medications you have taken and how they have affected you.

● Have an annual (or more frequent) “medication check-up” with your doctors to review what you are taking and whether any of them can be discontinued or replaced with safer alternatives.

● Be aware of potential side effects, even if they seem minor.

Talk to your doctor immediately if you experience any complications that seem related to your medications.