Use of Bisphosphonates in Older Adults: How Long Is Long Enough?

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Objective: To assess the benefits and risks of long-term bisphosphonates for treatment of osteoporosis in older adults. Data Sources: A MEDLINE search was performed using PubMed from 1966 through 2011 to identify relevant publications. Key words searched included: adverse effects (AEs), aged, alendronate, atrial fibrillation, atypical fractures, bisphosphonate-associated osteonecrosis of the jaw, bisphosphonates, diaphyseal fractures, gastrointestinal cancer, ibandronate, musculoskeletal pain, osteoporosis, risedronate, subtrochanteric fractures, and zoledronic acid. Additional sources were obtained through bibliographic review of selected articles. Study Selection: Relevant studies that examined efficacy and safety of bisphosphonates in the treatment of osteoporosis were included. Focus was given to data involving older adults. Stronger levels of evidence (prospective trials) were given preference as the predominant body of literature, when available. Data Synthesis: Osteoporosis affects millions of elderly patients. Bisphosphonates represent first-line therapy. Recent literature has heightened concerns regarding AEs associated with long-term use, leading to the proposition of a "drug holiday." Additionally, there is a lack of literature concerning management of bisphosphonates in older adults. Conclusion: Evidence indicates that bisphosphonates maintain their efficacy and safety in older adults. Consideration must be given on a case-by-case basis to potential AEs associated with long-term use, as well as the derived benefit. Drug holidays may be appropriate given consideration of certain patient characteristics. Well-designed, prospective studies are needed to evaluate long-term use and AEs in older adults; therefore, clinical judgment combined with available evidence will have to suffice as the current practice.
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  • The Consultant Pharmacist® is the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists. It is dedicated exclusively to the medication needs of the elderly in all settings, including adult day care, ambulatory care, assisted living, community, hospice, and nursing facilities. This award-winning journal is a member benefit of ASCP. Individuals who are not members and wish to receive The Consultant Pharmacist® will want to consider joining ASCP.
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