For nearly a century, antibiotics have been touted as the most amazing product of modern medicine. And truthfully, for residents of Manchester and elsewhere, they do work pretty well, even for people receiving end of life care.
But while some medical professionals rely on them for zapping any type of infection, others warn that there are risks of overusing them, especially when other treatment methods may work.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice tries to keep up with current research into the pros and cons of antibiotics, especially their use by seniors.
This is important since many of our clients are seniors and some do have health conditions that occasionally or regularly benefit from antibiotic use. So whatever we can do to help their health or reduce risks to them, we’ll happily do. We also like to have as much knowledge as we can since it’s so easy for many people to think, “oh, they’re fine” or “It’s just medicine, so it’s helpful.”
On the pro side, antibiotics do work especially for bacterial infections. They help in hospitals and battlefields and homes. They’ve used in various forms and methods for centuries, although they started being available commercially as a pharmaceutical product in the 1940s.
Antibiotics researchers say ancient practitioners used to put moldy bread on patients. Even if they didn’t understand the microscopic battles taking place, they learned that certain bacteria, including that in some food molds, can have healing properties.
Today, antibiotics are much more refined and hygienic, which is part of the problem.
The Centers for Disease Control has reported that they can help heal people from potentially deadly infections, but definitely overprescribed. A recent report showed that as many as 28 percent of antibiotics are medically unnecessary.
A 2019 New York Times piece said that antibiotics are being prescribed for just about every sort of ailment besides the common cold or the flu, and especially to the 65 and over group. This group is already classified as “overmedicated” by the Centers for Disease Control.
Risks of too many antibiotics can include:
- They may not work anymore (our bodies will learn to resist them)
- They may work too well, and super strains can develop that will damage more than the specific infection they’re designed to zap.
- They can damage or seriously imbalance our gut microbes that affect our overall health and performance.
- They can disrupt our food supply and hurt the environment, especially antibiotics in meat/food chains.
These aren’t just scary “what-ifs” since some of them are already happening, such as deaths occurring because antibiotics may not help some patients or the development of “superbugs” that are difficult to treat with common antibiotics. These sometimes result in extended hospital stays, loss of limbs, or worse.
There are also organizations continuing to advocate for better food safety and quality in the supply chain, pointing out the risk of everything from tainted meat to polluted waterways due to more and more reliance on antibiotics in our meat.
Seniors and antibiotics
Beyond the previous list of ‘big picture’ risks, seniors can face other challenges.
Science Direct said seniors have a greater susceptibility to getting infections which could lead to their provider prescribing antibiotics. This could be everything from minor cuts and scrapes to internal infections.
Seniors are generally slower to heal especially with certain skin conditions so antibiotics may be slower to work. The digestive process also changes with age, so antibiotics may not absorb as well and be as effective.
There’s also a higher possibility of interactions with other medications they might be already taking. They, or their provider, might not know whether the upset stomach is due to whatever condition they’re dealing with, or a side effect of the antibiotics.
Seniors in poor physical health also have a higher possibility of needing to be admitted to the hospital, which is often a place where some of the more resistant strains have been found.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered many of these previous practices. Frequent use of antibacterial soaps, wipes, and lotion is encouraged. While this can cut down on transmission, it also could damage healthier microbes.
Many hospitals are taking extra steps to reduce any contagion, including more protective equipment, or in some cases, discouraging patients from coming in for routine conditions.
People concerned about antibiotic use can begin by talking to their provider about different options or what his or her protocols are.
Then there are plenty of online resources to assist.
For instance, U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week takes place Nov. 18-24 as does World Antimicrobial Awareness Week.
Both public campaigns are designed to increase knowledge about the pros and cons of antibiotics in the world and look at some of the management challenges at the patient and consumer level as well as in health care settings.
Each site offers information that you or your provider can use to learn more about the topic or educate others around you.