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Antibiotic attitudes

While nearly all of the older adults surveyed in a recent poll say they understand that overuse of antibiotics is a problem – and also say they’re cautious about taking them – more than 40% expect their doctors to give them an antibiotic prescription for long-lasting cold symptoms, and many have reused leftover prescriptions they still have at home.

These findings come from the most recent National Poll on Healthy Aging conducted at the University of Michigan. The survey included more than 2,200 adults between the ages of 50 and 80 who were asked if they had received a prescription for an antibiotic at least once in the last two years, and also about their past practices with antibiotic medicines.

Their responses revealed a number of common attitudes, along with some common misunderstandings, about antibiotic use, including:

• Nearly 89% agreed that overuse can lead to antibiotics not working the next time they’re needed.

• While well over half agreed that doctors overprescribe antibiotics, 41% said that if they had a cold or flu that lasted long enough to cause them to see a doctor, they would expect to receive a prescription for an antibiotic.

• 34% said they believe antibiotics can help them get better if they get a cold or the flu, even though these viral illnesses do not respond to antibiotics.

• Nearly 13% of those who filled an antibiotic prescription said they had leftover medication, 65% of those with leftover antibiotics said they kept them, and nearly 60% of these respondents said they did so in case they needed the medication in the future. 

• Nearly 19% of all respondents said that they had taken antibiotics without talking to a health care professional at least once in the past, and most said they had taken their own leftover antibiotics.

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