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Are GLP-1 Weight Loss Medications Safe for People Over 65?

February 28, 2024
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3 minutes
Are GLP-1 Weight Loss Medications Safe for People Over 65?

GLP-1 weight loss drugs such as Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, and Zepbound have grown in popularity to help people drop pounds quickly, but the medications could cause health concerns for those 65 years of age and older. The drugs can be very beneficial for people of all ages who are trying to reach a healthy weight. However, we realize medication alone won’t address behaviors, so we prioritize healthy lifestyle modifications, with the drugs, or without.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the obesity prevalence among U.S. adults aged 60 and older is41.5%. Nearly 30 percent of seniors (29.2%) older than 65 years in the United States are estimated to have diabetes with Type 2 diabetes being the most common, according to the American Diabetes Association.

After our client has a consultation with our Harbor Health team, we may decide to prescribe a GLP-1 medication to someone over 65 to help them lose weight and better manage their diabetes or other health conditions related to obesity such as heart disease, kidney disease, and high blood pressure. However, we always make sure they understand the potential health concerns that accompany drugs.

Hazards of People 65+ Taking GLP-1 Weight Loss Medications

We know these GLP-1 weight loss drugs can be effective for older adults, but it’s not clear how they might affect this population in the long term. Clinical trials on these medications have not included large numbers of older adults. We also know people over 65tend to be more prone to drug side effects in general. As I consult with older people who are taking the medications, I make sure they know the possible hazards:

  • Severe gastrointestinal side effects from these drugs may lead to dehydration which can lead to falls. Most of the side effects reported from these medications have included GI issues like vomiting and nausea. When a person becomes dehydrated, he or she is more inclined to become dizzy or feel faint and fall. It’s important to monitor older people taking weight loss medications to make sure they are getting enough food and water.

  • Weight loss leads to muscle mass loss as people age, putting the elderly at risk for falls and broken bones. Rapid weight loss can cause bones to lose density and strength. Seniors should eat plenty of protein to preserve muscle mass and consider some sort of strength training.

  • Older adults may have orthostatic hypotension, a sudden drop in blood pressure when they move from sitting or lying down to standing. Weight loss can exacerbate the condition.

  • Older adults who tend to take more medications are at greater risk of drug interactions. I make sure to review all of our clients’ medications to reveal any possible medication interactions that could be dangerous.

  • Kidney and liver functions naturally decline as people age, affecting how their bodies handle medications, so that needs to be monitored closely in older adults.

Lifestyle Modifications to Lose or Maintain Weight

We encourage everyone who wants to lose weight to try lifestyle modifications first. I advise people to exercise 150 minutes each week, cut processed foods and foods with added sugar out of their diets, and drink plenty of water. Sleep is also extremely important in weight loss. People should get consistently good, uninterrupted sleep for seven to eight hours every night to help with weight loss and daily stressors to help mitigate poor dietary choices from stress-eating.

If, after sharing in the decision-making with his or her health team, a person decides to try a weight loss drug, clinicians should monitor not just possible weight loss, but also possible drug side effects or interactions. And here’s one of the most important pieces of advice: the goal generally should be to stop the medication when a weight goal is reached and ensure daily behaviors are in place to maintain health. Our health teams aim to support a person of any age in that journey.

Emily Hicks

Emily Hicks

Family Nurse Practitioner

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