American seniors—those 65 years and older—have more chronic diseases and conditions than younger people and as a result, use more medications. In fact, researchers estimate that one third of the elderly take at least five prescription drugs to treat chronic conditions, a figure that sharply increases as they age.* 

Taking multiple medications can lead to confusion over which medicines to take, how often, and how much. Taking your medicines incorrectly—skipping a dose, running out of a medication, or taking too much—not only decreases its intended effectiveness, it could increase the risk of an adverse drug event, resulting in serious complications, hospitalizations, or worse.    

An astounding 25-50 percent of seniors experience an adverse drug event (ADE), accounting for nearly 700,000 emergency department visits and 100,000 hospitalizations each year. Sadly, about 25 percent of those adverse reactions are preventable.*

 

Why does this happen?

Complications resulting from poor medication management and adherence can have many causes. Some of the risk factors include: 

  • Poor communication with doctors and pharmacists 
  • Numerous over-the-counter drugs (OTC) that cause serious drug interactions 
  • Absence of a primary caregiver to help ensure adherence
  • Patients going to multiple specialists and prescribers with no medication coordination 
  • Deafness and/or poor eyesight 
  • Cognition issues 
  • Alcohol or drug use, vitamins, and herbal remedies 

 

Tips for successfully and safely managing your medications

Get the maximum benefit of your medications—while reducing the risk of complications—by following these steps:

 

  • Stay organized. 
  • Keep all medications in one place. 
  • Always have a backup supply (though insurance denials can sometimes make this difficult). 
  • Create and MAINTAIN an up-to-date list that includes dosage, frequency, what the medication is for, and who prescribed it. This list should accompany every physician or hospital visit. Click here to download a free medication management tracker.
  • Make sure you understand the instructions before taking any new medications. (when to take, with food, with water, may cause drowsiness, etc.) 
  • Set up a reminder or tracking system. This could be something as simple as daily marked pillboxes to more sophisticated technology systems and apps. Even programming “Alexa” can be a verbal cue to adhere to a medication regimen. 
  • Be informed and understand potential side effects, such as dizziness, which increases the risk of falling. Some even mimic dementia-like behaviors, which can be misleading when searching for a cause of the symptoms.
  • Plan for refills (if possible, use 90-day automatic mail order refills).
  • Consult your doctor if you think you should stop taking medications for symptoms that no longer exist or for those that seem to be ineffective.
  • Exercise extra care when taking some of the risky drugs that react differently in the elderly than in younger patients (such as psychotropic drugs for depression and anxiety, sedatives, beta blockers, analgesics, and many more). 

 

 

Brown bag it!

I have always recommended to my own clients that they take the “brown bag” approach to managing their medications. Here’s how it works:

 

At least twice a year, throw all your medication bottles (prescriptions and OTC) in a bag and bring them to your primary doctor for review and guidance. Wherever possible, review which medications have the possibility of being “deprescribed” (ie, you no longer need to take). Doing so may improve your quality of life and offer potential cost savings, too. 

 

Important note: these tips aren’t suggested for people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.  In these cases, safe med management likely requires the oversight of a family member or paid caregiver.   

 

For more information and an assessment of a loved one’s cognitive ability to manage their own medications, contact a clinical manager at your local BAYADA Personal Care office

 

*Task Force on Aging Research Funding

 

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