National Poll Highlights Antibiotic Education Needs Among Older US Adults


One in 5 older adults said that they’ve taken leftover antibiotics from a previous prescription without checking in with a health care professional.


Many older US adults do not properly use antibiotics, despite awareness of antibiotic resistance as a public health concern, according to a new poll.1

The poll was conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine. More than 2256 older adults answered questions about various aspects of antibiotic use.1 The findings indicate opportunities for patient education, particularly for pharmacists who can educate patients on proper antibiotic use and disposal.

Nearly half (48%) of Americans ages 50 to 80 who responded to the National Poll on Healthy Aging cited using antibiotics in the past 2 years. Despite widespread knowledge of the negative effects of antibiotic overuse, 2 in 5 older adults said they expect to receive antibiotic prescriptions for colds that last long enough.1

Even more, 1 in 5 said that they’ve taken leftover antibiotics from a previous prescription without checking in with a health care professional. Respondents’ top reasons for leftover antibiotics were that they were given more doses than needed (34%), stopped taking a prescription because they felt better (32%), stopped taking it due to adverse effects (18%), forgot to take it or skipped some doses (14%), and stopped taking it because it did not help (7%).1

According to the findings, 92% of older adults agreed that they are cautious about the use of antibiotics and 89% agreed that overuse can lead to antibiotic resistance. Additionally, 3 in 5 were concerned about adverse effects from antibiotics and 56% believed that physicians overprescribed antibiotics.1

However, 34% of polled adults said that they believe antibiotics help them get better sooner when they have a cold or flu. Approximately 1 in 4 also said that physicians do not prescribe antibiotics when they should.1

Additionally, of the 13% who had leftover antibiotics in the past 2 year, only 1 in 5 disposed of them safely.

The World Health Organization has named antimicrobial resistance to be one of the 10 threats to global health in 2019. The misuse and overuse of antibiotics are the driving forces contributing to antimicrobial resistance. Pharmacists can play a crucial role in fighting antimicrobial resistance through an interdisciplinary approach in the community and hospital setting.  

Related: Antibiotic Counseling Pearls for the Community Setting

“We obviously have work to do to help older adults understand safe and appropriate use of these medications so that we can preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for patients who need them most,” poll director Preeti Malani, MD, a specialist in both infectious diseases and the care of older adults, said in a statement about the findings.2 “These findings should be a reminder to physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other providers to step up their wise-prescribing practices and patient education.”

Counseling patients on the risks of antibiotics and encouraging them to bring leftover antibiotics to community “take back” events or follow other guidelines for disposal can help ensure that use is appropriate, safe, and effective, the report concluded.



1. University of Michigan. National Poll on Health Aging [report]. November/December 2019. Accessed December 3, 2019.

2. Poll Reveals Risky Antibiotic Use by Older Adults, and Opportunities to Improve Prescribing [news release]. University of Michigan Health’s website. Accessed December 3, 2019.

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