Are the New Weight Loss Wonder Drugs Safe for Seniors?

Are the New Weight Loss Wonder Drugs Safe for Seniors

Losing weight is not easy, especially for seniors. As we get older, our metabolism slows down, and that cheeseburger you could consume with aplomb only a few years ago now seems to linger as extra padding on your belly, hips, or thighs. Many of us are not as physically active as we used to be. Over time, the calories add up more and more, and soon we find ourselves carrying more weight than we should.

According to the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, the number of elder Americans who are considered obese has doubled in recent years. Today, more than one in ten seniors are considered obese, and many more are considered overweight. And with that comes a myriad of health problems that can be attributed to or exacerbated by carrying too much weight, from high cholesterol to hypertension to diabetes.1

How wonderful would it be to have a weight loss drug that took the extra pounds off? For decades, scientists have worked to find a “miracle drug” that could make losing weight much easier.

And in amazing news, they might have actually found that drug. It’s called semaglutide – known by the brand names Ozempic or Wegovy.

What Are These Wonder Weight Loss Drugs?

Ozempic is an injectable medicine that was created to help adults with type 2 diabetes keep their blood sugar under control. It has also been proven to lower hemoglobin A1C, which is the measure of average blood glucose over time. Lowering the A1C can lead to lowering the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular events.

The medication is injected subcutaneously – meaning right underneath the skin, into the fat cells of the belly or thighs – once every week. The time-released formula comes in 0.5, 1.0, and 2.0 milligram doses. And though it is not officially a weight loss drug, doctors found that it lessened appetite and helped those with type 2 diabetes lose weight.

The active ingredient in Ozempic is semaglutide. That ingredient has been approved by the FDA for weight loss, and can be found in higher dosages in another injectable medication called Wegovy.

How Can Someone Without Diabetes Use a Drug Designed for Diabetes?

The big question about Ozempic is that if it treats diabetes, shouldn’t it be bad for those who don’t have diabetes? Wouldn’t it cause serious blood sugar lows?

Ozempic works by prompting your pancreas to produce more insulin in response to higher blood sugar. So if your blood sugar doesn’t run high, Ozempic won’t prompt that release of insulin. That’s why Ozempic very rarely leads to low blood sugar and can be used by those who aren’t diabetic.

What is Wegovy?                                      

Wegovy has the same active ingredient as Ozempic, but at a higher dosage of 2.4 milligrams. Wegovy is FDA-approved specifically to treat obesity for those who have a body mass index of 30 or more, or a BMI of 27 with a co-existing condition directly related to obesity, such as high blood pressure.2

The active ingredient, semaglutide, enhances the effect of a hormone called GLP-1. This hormone is naturally occurring in the body and helps to control blood sugar levels. It also reduces appetite and cravings, as well as helps you feel full and satisfied after meals. As you might imagine, these actions of GLP-1 can quickly lead to weight loss.

Just How Well Does Semaglutide Work?

For most people it works amazingly well.

Novo Nordisk, the maker of semaglutide, conducted a study of almost 2,000 people who were overweight or obese but did not have diabetes. Some of the individuals received a 2.4 milligram dose of semaglutide, while others received a placebo. The study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, lasted for well over a year and the results were clear: Those on semaglutide lost 14.9% of their body weight, while those on the placebo lost only 2.4%.3

Are there any Drawbacks?

Think you’re ready to ask your doctor for a prescription? Not so fast… your insurance company is key, and you might have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for this drug – assuming you can get it at all.

Since Ozempic is a proven drug to fight type 2 diabetes, it is usually covered by insurance. While insurance can bring down the out-of-pocket cost for Ozempic, many find that it is still priced well out of their ability to pay for it. It isn’t unusual to find Ozempic priced at $1,000 or higher per month.4

And if you don’t have diabetes, your insurance company might recognize the “off label” prescription for weight loss and decline to cover it.

In most cases, Wegovy is not covered by insurance, simply because it is considered a true weight loss drug. In fact, most health plans don’t cover weight loss drugs. Medicare will cover bariatric surgery to help an obese person lose weight, but it won’t cover medications like Wegovy. And only a handful of Medicaid plans across the country will cover them.5

Even if you are able to get a prescription for either Ozempic or Wegovy and you have an insurance plan that covers the medication and you can afford the out-of-pocket expense, you might still face the problem of being unable to find either of them in stock at pharmacies in your area.

As more people recognize the value of these drugs for weight loss and see others getting good results, demand for the medication is surpassing the production of it. According to Forbes, Wegovy has been out of stock in most places since it was released on the market. That means many are turning to the off-label use of Ozempic for the same results, thus hindering the supply of it.6

That can be frustrating for those who want an easier way to lose weight, but it could be devastating for those who have diabetes and need the medication to help protect them against heart disease and other problems that can arise from poorly controlled diabetes.

Another issue long-term is that once you start taking these weight loss drugs, you must continue with them or risk gaining back all the weight. This may be challenging if the drugs are in such high demand that pharmacies can’t keep them in stock.

Are These Drugs Safe for Seniors?

For most people, both medications are very safe. However, if you have certain medical conditions, you shouldn’t try taking these drugs. Seniors should avoid Ozempic or Wegovy if they have:

·        Type 1 diabetes

·        A history of pancreatitis

·        Diabetic retinopathy

·        Any problems with the pancreas or kidneys

·        A family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC)

·        An endocrine system disorder known as multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN 2)

And keep in mind that while these drugs have been proven to be generally safe, they do have some side effects. For most, these side effects are tolerable and decrease significantly as your body adjusts to the medication. But for some, they can become serious enough to warrant stopping the injections.

Gastrointestinal upset, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation are by far the most common side effects. Other side effects of either Ozempic or Wegovy include:

·        Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas

·        Changes in vision

·        Kidney or gallbladder problems

·        Allergic reactions

·        Low blood sugar

·        Thyroid tumors or cancer

Keep in mind that these other side effects are rare, but it is very important to watch for them and be prepared if they do happen. Even the most common side effect of gastrointestinal upset can be an issue beyond being uncomfortable.

Vomiting and diarrhea can easily lead to dehydration, especially in the elderly. And that dehydration can lead to confusion, weakness, and fatigue – and of course, that leads to a greater risk of falls. If you start on Ozempic or Wegovy, it’s a very good idea to also start using a medical alert system with fall detection. If you do suffer from any medical emergency while on the medication, help is literally at your fingertips.

Will I Keep the Weight Off?

Once you start Ozempic or Wegovy, be prepared to stay on the medication for the rest of your life. That’s because the downside of these wonder drugs is that as soon as you stop taking them, you usually begin regaining the weight, and can wind up at your old weight or higher within a matter of months.

It’s a good idea to blend the medications with positive lifestyle changes that can keep the weight loss going and help you maintain it in the long term. Here are some tips to make that happen.

·        Watch your calories. No matter what medication you are on, the old standard of taking in fewer calories than you burn still applies. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Ask your doctor what your caloric intake should be and try to adhere to that suggestion.

·        Get good exercise. Though you might lose a good bit of weight without adding exercise into the mix, there will come a time when the weight loss will slow down. There is also the need to stay as healthy and strong as possible, no matter what the scale says. Regular exercise of at least 30 minutes five times each week is the usual recommendation for seniors. When you do exercise, make sure to have an on-the-go medical alert device with you – you want to be able to reach out for help if you have any sort of emergency, especially if you are working out alone.

·        Stay well-hydrated. Sometimes thirst can be mistaken for hunger. And on the flip side of that, you might feel satiated enough when taking these weight loss drugs that you don’t feel as though you need more water. Drink it anyway.

·        Join a support group. Weight loss support groups can provide you with the reassurance and motivation you need to keep going, even when the numbers on the scale stop dropping. And it’s a sure bet that some of the individuals you encounter in those groups will also be on Ozempic or Wegovy, and they can offer advice concerning how the medications worked for them.

As you go through the weight loss journey with these new drugs, take Alert1 Medical Alert Systems with you. From the possibility of dehydration to a difference in your center of gravity as you lose weight, there are many ways that weight loss could lead to an increased risk of falls. Medical alert wireless technology can help you stay safe and secure, knowing that if you do suffer a fall or some sort of medical emergency, help is just a button push away, 24/7. Here’s to your health!