The pharmaceutical and drug manufacturers provide many options for treatment of healthcare conditions that in the past were fatal. While these medications have benefits they also have risks. The risks of medication are due to their chemical nature. One medication in isolation may not be problematic, but the cumulative effect of many medications for multiple conditions causes difficulty.
Not only is the number of medications of concern, but in the senior population the destruction and excretion of the medication is less efficient due to the aging body systems and organs. The term poly pharmacy is used to describe the multiple medications that seniors take. Research validates this issue and demonstrates the impact of some classes of medication being more problematic than others.
Dutch researchers have combined data from 19 separate studies conducted in 11 Western countries, which found approximately one in five prescriptions written for elderly patients were inappropriate. And, the analysis showed common drugs classed to treat allergies, depression, and pain were among the most overprescribed, and also the ones most likely to produce adverse reactions.
Dr. Barbara Paris the director of the division of geriatrics at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn estimates that about 30 percent of hospital admissions of elderly patients are related to the toxic effects of some medications.
Here is some advice about medications based on my 30 years of experience in medication management while working with seniors:
- Be your own advocate. Ask the healthcare provider about the medications that are being prescribed, including side effects, drug interactions and if there are safer or alternative medications. Seniors may not need the medication or there may be alternatives that are less costly and just as effective. Although a senior may have been on a medication for a long time,that does not mean that they still need the medication or that the medication continues to be the right treatment. Our body changes with time. Ask questions.
- Bring all medications your loved one is taking to every physician office visit and to the emergency room or for hospital inpatient or outpatient procedures. This includes those that are over the counter, natural or herbal remedies and prescriptions provided by other healthcare providers. Healthcare providers may not know the other members of the healthcare team. It is up to you to provide each provider with that information and your loved one’s medications. If possible, have the senior carry a list of all of their medications in their purse or wallet. Update the list after each healthcare provider visit.
- Medications are expensive. Ask your loved one’s physician about more inexpensive alternatives. This might include combination medications or medications where a pill is scored so it can be safely cut in half. If a senior is on a new medication, ask for a limited amount of prescription to prevent waste and manage cost more effectively. The newest medication on the market is not always the best one.
Medications are chemicals and each medication has side effects. The concern for those who take multiple medications is the potential for adverse reactions due to the cumulative effect of all of the medications. Further, what works for one person may not work for another. As a young adult your body works differently than the aged person’s body. Regardless of your age, condition and medications, act as your own advocate. If you are not comfortable in that role, ask someone to help you. An Eldercare Navigator can help you through the confusing maze.
Thanks to Mardy Chizek, RN,FNP,BSN,MBA,AAS, president of Charism Eldercare Services, www.charism.net