Managing Polypharmacy

Polypharmacy is defined as “taking multiple medications for a variety of conditions.”  There are millions of seniors in this situation today.

Medication management is an important issue for seniors and their families.  Failure to properly manage medications can threaten the lives of seniors.  This situation suggests a heightened emphasis on ensuring that seniors take their medications in strict adherence to their physicians’ instructions.  Harmful drug interactions are a result of confusion that can arise when seniors take multiple medications at the same time.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists estimates that more than 34 percent of senior citizens are prescribed medications by more than one physician.  Approximately 44 percent of men and 57 percent of women older than 65 take five or more medications per week.  The problem is exacerbated with “Pharmacy shopping” in an effort to save money.  Multiple pharmacies reduce the ability of systems to catch dangerous interactions.

Beyond medication confusion, the fact that older adults metabolize medications differently than younger people.  As a result, elders may be more susceptible to overdosing.

Families wanting to help seniors manage their medications should consider the following strategies:

Keep a list.  Keep a list of medications taken by your loved one.  Make note of both prescription and over-the-counter medications including any supplements and herbals.  Provide the full list to any doctors you visit and pharmacies you utilize.

Understand.  Be aware of why each medication is being prescribed by asking each physician or pharmacist you visit.  If it is not clear from the prescription label, make a label yourself and affix it to the bottle.

Pill sorters.  Medication sorters can keep medications organized and reduce the possibility of human error in medication management.

Provide help.  Friendly reminders from family or friends or home care caregivers can greatly benefit seniors who may forget or get confused by the variety of their medications.  This is particularly true in situations where they need to take multiple doses throughout the day.  Those seniors who are cognitively impaired may particularly need the assistance of a visiting professional caregiver.

Keep a diary.  Assist your loved one with keeping a diary of any side-effects a medication may generate.  By asking the question specifically, it may help the senior realize that there are feelings that may not be normal after taking a drug, especially a newly prescribed one.  Any issues should be promptly reported to the prescribing doctor.

Careful medication management can avoid serious complications among seniors taking multiple simultaneous prescriptions.

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