The use of multiple medications, also known as polypharmacy, leads to nearly 30 percent of all hospitalizations in the U.S. It is the country’s fifth leading cause of death, according to HealthResearchFunding.org. Because seniors often face a wider range of medical issues, they are particularly vulnerable. However, caregivers can take steps to help their aging loved ones manage their medications, reduce the risk of polypharmacy, and enjoy safer, healthier lives.
1. Maintain a List
HealthResearchFunding.org further reports that people between the ages of 65 and 69 take an average of 14 medications. People in their 80s take up to 18. Managing all of these is a struggle at any age, let alone for someone with cognitive or memory problems.
The simple act of maintaining a list of all medications and dosing instructions can play a critical role in keeping track. Be sure to include all OTC drugs and herbal supplements; these contribute to the pill burden and increase the risk of polypharmacy.
Keep this list in an easily accessible place for all caregivers and in the event of an emergency.
2. Ask Questions
A report from the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) reveals that approximately half of adult Americans “have difficulty reading, understanding and acting upon health information.” While this can be particularly true for seniors, doctors and pharmacists are valuable resources in promoting patient engagement and awareness.
If you’re unsure about your loved one’s medication, ask. More informed caregivers regarding how drugs work, potential side effects, brand names and generics, and potential adverse drug reactions, play a more vital a role in safeguarding their loved ones’ health.
Bring your loved one’s medication list to all appointments so doctors have access to the “big picture.” It’s also worth asking your doctor about ways to reduce the number of medications. The more pills your loved one takes each day, the greater the likelihood of nonadherence, such as missing or doubling a dose.
3. Use One Pharmacy
One easy way to take a step toward safer drug management is to have all prescriptions filled at one pharmacy. This helps pharmacists keep an eye on any potentially dangerous drug combinations.
4. Get Organized
While filling and organizing pill boxes takes discipline, experts agree that this is a particularly effective method for simplifying the multiple medication process. Some seniors may be able to handle this task on their own, others will need assistance.
Getting organized also means developing regular habits for taking medication. Incorporating medications into senior routines – such as just before bedtime or after brushing teeth in the morning – increases the likelihood that seniors will remember to take their pills.
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5. Keep Watch
Unfortunately, the widespread polypharmacy problem is often accompanied by social stigma. Some may be embarrassed or ashamed to reveal their medication management issues. Signs that your loved one may be struggling include expired medications, pill bottles that appear unused, or delayed or missed refills.
As with most caregiving issues, open lines of communication are essential. Let your aging loved one know that polypharmacy is a common problem and that you are there to help ease the process.
While polypharmacy is a very real threat to senior health and life, these five measures can help caregivers make a difference by preventing adverse drug reactions and safeguarding senior health.
Maria Wellisch, RN, LNFA, is a registered nurse and vice president of corporate education for mmLearn.org. Her idea of offering on-line training for Morningside Ministries’ staff has grown to offering online training for ALL caregivers. Her vision to offer quality training for ALL caregivers has benefited people around the world.
Mmlearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers for older adults, covering senior care topics. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult, you’ll find tools for all of your caregiver training needs. Access MMLearn’s free online caregiver videos for more valuable content today.