October 2019

Are Supplements a Choking Hazard for Seniors?

New research says yes. Unlike drugs, there aren’t any guidelines on supplement pill size for geriatric patients. Which types of supplements pose the biggest risk?

Multivitamins are the most common culprit. New research shows that 73% of reported dietary supplement-related swallowing problems from 2006 to 2015 were related to multivitamins, and the vast majority involved seniors. Up to 35% of older adults take a multivitamin. Multivitamin pills tend to be very large, often well above the 17 mm guideline for generic drugs. New data shows that multivitamins marketed specifically to seniors can be 19 mm or larger. Calcium supplements are also a concern. Up to 24% of seniors take a calcium supplement. Calcium supplement pills can be over 21 mm in size.

Many other supplements commonly used by seniors are often in large pill form. Vitamin D, fish oil, and combination products can all pose a risk. If older patients are interested in taking supplements, it’s important to discuss whether the supplements will really be beneficial for them. If they still wish to take them, be sure to review pill size. Adjusting doses or suggesting chewables or even liquid options may be appropriate.

To learn more about other potential issues with supplement use in geriatric patients, including potential interactions and side effects, check out our new CE.

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