Too many pills? As family caregivers of senior adults, many of us wonder if our senior loved one is taking more medications than are needed or healthy, not to mention so many that we fear keeping track is difficult.
It is not uncommon that elders with more than one chronic disease condition see more than one doctor to control these conditions. It is also not uncommon that medications can be prescribed without always knowing what other doctors are doing, which may lead to poly-pharmacy – or numerous medications – with numerous effects and unsafe interactions.
Over-medication in the elderly is far too common a problem, a public health crisis that compromises the well-being of older adults according to an article published in the New York Times. It reviews the recently updated Beers Criteria published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, outlining a number of medications most likely to cause adverse reactions in the elderly.
More than 40% of adults over age 65 take five or more medications and one third of these will experience an adverse side effect, which can result in serious health outcomes.
There are three groups of medication categories about which your doctor needs to be aware in order to be sure that the drugs your senior loved one takes everyday are safe for him or her. Unfortunately, not every doctor in general practice may be aware of the new guidelines especially when geriatrics is not his practice focus.
Key Medication Categories for Seniors
- drugs to avoid in general in the elderly
- drugs to avoid in older people with certain diseases
- drugs to use with caution in the elderly if there are no acceptable alternatives
It is important to help your senior navigate the myriad of medications they are taking to be sure there are no potential interactions that can make the drug dangerous to take or make it ineffective in treating what it was designed to effect.
Advocating for Seniors Regarding Medication
- Ask your senior’s doctor and pharmacist to review their drug list, including any over-the-counter medications taken regularly, vitamin or mineral supplements or herbal preparations which may cause adverse effects with their prescribed medications.
- Keep track of your senior loved ones’ medications using the Geriatrics Society’s Foundation for Health Aging Drug Diary that lists your senior’s medications and dosages. They recommend this diary be completed and kept current. It should be taken with you to every doctor and health care provider visit for review to prevent duplication or adverse interaction.
- Don’t forget to ask your senior’s health care professional about any side effects when being given any new prescription. Let the doctor know immediately if any reactions are experienced or the drug does not seem to be working – - but do not stop taking the medication without talking with the doctor.
- Let your senior’s doctor know of any unusual symptoms or changes in behavior in your senior loved one, including pain, when you notice these changes so that he will be able to make the best decisions.
- Let your elder loved one’s doctor know of any supplements or over the counter pills your senior takes to be sure there are no harmful interactions. Even something as innocent as ibuprofen or antihistamine has the potential to cause problems.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions or consult the Beers Criteria to be sure your senior is safe.
- Help your senior remember to take medications as prescribed. There are several different kinds of medication organizers and reminders that can be helpful. The medication can’t work as it is intended if it is not taken as prescribed.
- Trust your senior’s doctor to make the best choice for your loved one with all the available information you can provide. Remember that some of the medications that your senior needs may have no alternative and therefore the doctor will weigh the risks and benefits carefully. Be involved in the discussion but don’t make demands that you may not be qualified to make. Your senior’s doctor wants what is best for your senior too!
- Don’t forget to learn about each drug. Sometimes food can also interact with medications and should be avoided while taking certain drugs. Also remember that the time of day a medication is taken is important for beneficial results so be sure that medications are taken according to the directions.
Knowledge is power and can lead to better health and well-being for your senior loved one!