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Older Adults Often Overlook Prescription Warning Labels

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Prescription warning labels are often overlooked by older people iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Going to the doctor when a health concern arises is standard for most people. The doctor examines you, after which you get a diagnosis, and then you are sent to the pharmacy with a prescription for the medicine.

Once at the pharmacy, however, do you read the warning label attached to the container of the medicine you are about to take? New studies suggest that older adults often do not.

“Each year, an estimated 4 million Americans experience adverse reactions to prescription medications. Many of these reactions, ranging from mild rashes and drowsiness to hospitalization and death, could be avoided if warning labels were more effective", according to a Michigan State University study.

According to an article published in the Los Angeles Times, the main reason for this failure to read the warnings is due to the placement and coloring of labels and cautionary stickers on the bottles.

The small writing on the prescription labels can be difficult to read.

The article says that in the study, “younger adults scanned pill vials more actively, while the older ones fixed their gaze in a more stationary fashion, and often missed the warnings.”

The label positioning made a difference to whether or not the study participants noticed the warnings. Researchers noticed that the younger participants tended to rotate the bottles and examine them more carefully, whereas the older participants just looked at the white label without turning the bottles.

Thus, the older subjects were more likely to miss the warnings on the medicine containers.

The study measured eye-movements through a headset worn by the test subjects, and results showed that “22% did not notice any of the warnings at all,” stated the LA Times article.

The Huffington Post also reported on the study, which was conducted by Kansas State and Michigan State universities, saying that the lack of government regulations in bottle labeling could have very serious and dangerous effects.

This study is of particular importance to the older population because people in this age group take more daily medications in comparison to the younger population.

According to the Huffington Post, “More than 30 percent of those 65 and older take 10 medications per day, while the average for all post 50s is four daily pills.”

Knowing the side effects and warnings for all your medications is vital in avoiding a lethal mistake or undesired reaction.

Regardless of your age, when picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy, it is important to look at all the labels on the bottle before starting the medication.


Bix, Laura. "Changes Needed for Oft-ignored Prescription Warning Labels." Changes Needed for Oft-ignored Prescription Warning Labels. Michigan State University, 15 June 2012. Web. 14 July 2012.

Gates, Sara. "Prescription Drugs & Seniors: Post 50s Overlook Key Warning Labels, Study Finds." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 06 July 2012. Web. 14 July 2012.

Loury, Erin. "Older Adults Overlook Prescription Warning Labels, Study Suggests." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 13 July 2012. Web. 14 July 2012.

Reviewed on July 16, 2012
by Maryann Gromisch, RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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