1 in 2 people over 45 say they’ve taken a generic drug or over-the-counter (OTC) medication instead of a prescription drug due to the current economic situation.

The AARP‘s report, Impact of the Economy on Health Behaviors, analyzes the survey responses of 820 Americans 45 years of age and older polled in October 2008.

Asked what health behaviors they may done as a result of the declining economy, the most common reactions among 45+ Americans were:

  • Taking a generic or OTC medication, 51%
  • Delaying seeing a doctor, 22%
  • Cutting back on other expenses, 21%
  • Seeking assistance in getting prescription drugs at a lower cost, 21%.

Furthermore, 16% of older Americans say they’ve cut back on preventive care. The same proportion of people are using savings to pay for medical care. 14% of people aren’t filling doctors’ prescriptions due to the economy.

In all instances, these responses increase across-the-board for people with less than $250,000 in household income — in some instances, dramatically so. For example, for the lowest-income families (those with less than $25K in income), 67% opt for generics and OTC meds compared with 51% of the overall 45+ population. 33% delayed seeing a doctor or medical professional, compared with 22%.

Other differences in response to the economy manifest across age cohorts. For the oldest cohort, 65+, 29% of people sought assistance getting Rx at a lower cost compared with 21% of the overall sample. The youngest of the cohort, 45-54, has a higher propensity to delay seeing a doctor and cut back on preventive than older people. This younger cohort is also the most likely to say that cutting back had a negative impact on their health versus those aged 65 and older.

And over 45 year old females tend to adopt generics and OTCs more than their male counterparts due to the economic downturn.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Older people consume more health services than younger people. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, women over 65 years of age tally more ambulatory visits to doctors than do men in the same age group: in 2005, the rate per 1,000 women was 7,731 compared to a rate of 7,050 for men.

For women age 45 to 64, women visit doctors 35% more than men in the same age cohort.

Combine this with the AARP finding that people in the young-old age cohort are delaying seeing doctors as well as cutting back on prevention as a result of the economy.

The result? Women’s health outcomes could decline in concert with the economy.

For more on women’s responses to economic decline, see my post titled Nearly 1 in 2 women delayed health care in the past year due to costs – the economic impact on a woman’s physical, emotional, and fiscal health posted on December 3, 2008.