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Pharmacodynamics in Older Adults


J. Mark Ruscin

, PharmD, FCCP, BCPS, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy;

Sunny A. Linnebur

, PharmD, BCPS, BCGP, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Colorado

Reviewed/Revised Jul 2021 | Modified Sep 2022
Topic Resources

In contrast to pharmacokinetic effects, pharmacodynamics Overview of Pharmacodynamics Pharmacodynamics (sometimes described as what a drug does to the body) is the study of the biochemical, physiologic, and molecular effects of drugs on the body and involves receptor binding... read more is defined as what the drug does to the body or the response of the body to the drug; it is affected by receptor binding, postreceptor effects, and chemical interactions (see Drug–Receptor Interactions Drug–Receptor Interactions Receptors are macromolecules involved in chemical signaling between and within cells; they may be located on the cell surface membrane or within the cytoplasm (see table ). Activated receptors... read more ). In older adults, the effects of similar drug concentrations at the site of action (sensitivity) may be greater or smaller than those in younger people (see table Effect of Aging on Drug Response Effect of Aging on Drug Response Effect of Aging on Drug Response ). Differences may be due to changes in drug-receptor interaction, postreceptor events, or adaptive homeostatic responses and, among frail patients, are often due to pathologic changes in organs. However, clinical differentiation between pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic effects can sometimes be difficult.

Older adults are particularly sensitive to anticholinergic drug effects. Many drugs (eg, tricyclic antidepressants, sedating antihistamines, urinary antimuscarinic agents, some antipsychotic drugs, antiparkinsonian drugs with atropine-like activity, many over-the-counter hypnotics and cold preparations) have anticholinergic effects. Older adults, most notably those with cognitive impairment, are particularly prone to central nervous system (CNS) adverse effects of such drugs and may become more confused and drowsy. Anticholinergic drugs also commonly cause constipation, urinary retention (especially in older men with benign prostatic hyperplasia), blurred vision, orthostatic hypotension, and dry mouth. Even in low doses, these drugs can increase risk of heatstroke by inhibiting diaphoresis. In general, older adults should avoid drugs with anticholinergic effects when possible.


Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
Atreza, Atropine Care , Atropisol , Isopto Atropine, Ocu-Tropine, Sal-Tropine
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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