Excessive medication use is a major problem in the elderly. A large majority of seniors typically take multiple pills a day, what is referred to as polypharmacy. As many as 40% of older adults living at home are taking too many pills concurrently. So why is taking multiple medications a problem for the elderly?
The Biggest Problems with Taking Multiple Medications
Seniors are more sensitive to drugs. They react more quickly and severely, resulting in more serious side effects.
One reason for this is that the kidneys and liver are less efficient at processing and flushing out drugs. So the body ends up with too many chemicals in its system.
Taking multiple medications at the same time increases the risk of MRPs or medication-related problems.
These are caused by increased frequency of drug reactions (dealing with side effects from each drug) and increased risk of drug interactions.
If two or more drugs that cause the same side effect are taken together, the side effect is more severe and can cause serious health complications.
Self-medication with over-the-counter drugs has made things worse.
Doctors have no idea which over-the-counter pills patients are using at home and are not able to account for possible interactions.
This worsens side effects and adverse drug interactions.
Why Seniors Take Multiple Medications
In many cases, some of the medications your elderly family member is taking are unnecessary. Here are some reasons why most seniors end up unjustifiably taking too many pills.
- Multiple health conditions. With age comes more health problems, necessitating more treatment and more medication. Even simple health problems like heartburn or a stomach upset is treated with pills, usually bought over the counter. Over time, they, like most seniors, are taking more than 5 pills a day.
- Drug-induced health problems. Taking multiple medications can actually lead to taking even more medications. Health problems caused by drug side effects or interactions lead seniors to seek more prescriptions, further compounding the problem. Doctors usually have no idea that the problem is actually caused by another medication they are taking.
- Unnecessary refills. It’s not uncommon to find seniors still taking pills for problems that are long gone. For instance, prescription for a heart burn or a temporary sleeping problem might keep getting renewed.
- Self-medicating with over-the-counter drugs.
Organising and Scheduling Problems
Another big problem with taking multiple medications is organisations.
Seniors find it difficult to follow the recommended dosage when they have to take multiple pills a day. This is an even bigger problem for seniors with dementia.
Even a healthy caregiver or family member might find it impossible to keep up with all the pills they need to take.
If the pill dispenser lacks an alarm, set one on your phone for each time they need to take a pill.
2. Buy from a single pharmacy
Your doctor may not know which other medications you’ve gotten from the pharmacy or have been prescribed by another specialist.
But if you pick up all your drugs from the same pharmacy, the pharmacist can help you make sure they are taking just the right amount of pills.
They can check different drugs for interactions and advice on those that they can stop taking.
They’ll also recommend whether you should stop taking certain non-prescription drugs as well alternative remedies and vitamin supplements.
Note: Always consult your doctor before you stop taking a prescription drug.
3. Keep your doctor informed
Inform the doctor of all the medications you are taking.
This includes prescriptions from other specialists, over-the-counter drugs, supplements and herbal remedies.
It’s also worth mentioning whether you are using any medicated creams, salves or ointments.
This allows the doctor to make better and safer decisions regarding what drugs to prescribe.
4. Consult your doctor instead of self-medicating
If your loved one experiences heartburn, an ache in a part of their body or any other health problem, your first stop should be your doctor’s office, not the pharmacy.
Self-medicating can be dangerous for seniors. It can worsen their health and even lead to fatal interactions.
Your doctor will diagnose the problem and advice on whether you need medication and if so, recommend the right one.
Remember to tell your doctor about all the current prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs to help them determine whether it’s one of them that’s causing the problem.