Family caregivers know all too well about seniors and polypharmacy.
Polypharmacy refers to regularly taking five or more prescribed medications, which may lead to the use of unnecessary medications and possibly ineffective or harmful medications.
Two-thirds of older adults take medications regularly. 36% of older adults take 5 or more prescription medications and 67% of older adults use more than five prescription drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and supplements daily.
Many of the medications seniors are prescribed and are taking may at some point be inappropriate for them, according to the Beers Criteria for potentially inappropriate medication use in older adults, and can lead to harmful side effects and adverse drug events.
Unfortunately, one-third of all hospital admissions for older adults are due to adverse drug events.
Tips to Reduce Adverse Drug Events
Family caregivers can help keep their senior loved ones safe with a few of these tips.
- Keep an updated list of prescription medications and OTC medicines/supplements, including their full names, dosages, times taken and prescribing doctor if your senior has many physicians.
- Have a medication review completed at least annually by your senior’s healthcare provider and/or pharmacist to determine if there are inappropriate medications, unnecessary medications, or overlap. This will require full disclosure of what OTC and supplemental pills are being taken.
- Check out Deprescribing.org, whose mission is to help seniors and medical practitioners back off medications when doses are too high or stop medications that are no longer needed. It is important to decrease or stop prescription medications only with the knowledge of a physician because ill effects can occur when medications are reduced properly. They have information about your senior’s medications and information to help them make decisions with you and your senior about medication usage.
- Be ready to talk to the doctor or other medical provider about your senior’s medication. Use these 5 questions to be prepared.
- Use Medstopper to learn more about your senior’s medications and to determine if your senior loved one is taking a medication that may be inappropriate or to get information about how to decrease the medication safely. Do not stop any medication without first discussing it with your senior’s doctor.
- Be observant of any side effects, new symptoms, or decline in function in your senior, especially when new medications are taken.
- Ask the doctor if there are combination pills that could mean taking one pill instead of two to reduce the potential for incorrect administration or medication errors.
The key to staying safe with multiple medications is to know what your senior is taking and regularly discussing their medication list (including all OTC and supplements) with the doctor to be sure they are all necessary and appropriate. Open communication between caregivers, seniors and their healthcare team will benefit your senior loved one.
Being your senior’s advocate could prevent tragedy from polypharmacy.