Addressing the Hazards of Polypharmacy in Older Adults

older man looking at medicine bottle labelMedications are important for regulating and improving the health of many seniors. They often play a role in managing pain and enabling independence. Yet, managing multiple prescriptions can pose a risk of possible complications down the line. Polypharmacy is defined as the use of more than five medications at once. While sometimes necessary, it is important to know how to manage the risks imposed for older adults.

Medication management is a major health challenge for many older adults

Side effects like dizziness, fatigue and confusion can occur when some medications or combinations of medications are used. Often, family members and caregivers miss the connection, and believe that their loved one is experiencing signs of dementia instead. These same side effects can increase the risk for injury due to falls or even car accidents.

Polypharmacy might increase risks

While polypharmacy is needed in many cases, it has been found that older adults are often taking more medications than medically necessary at one time. While some prescriptions may not have needed a refill, there are others that are inappropriate for older adults to begin with. It has been shown by the American Geriatrics Society that as many as one third of older adults are prescribed medications that are not appropriate for their age.

How older adults and their loved ones can get involved:

Luckily, there are ways to safely limit the effects of polypharmacy in older adults. A great way to start is by having a medication review completed. Patients are often prescribed medication by more than one doctor. Therefore, it is important to make a list of all medications being taken (over the counter included) and have a single doctor or pharmacist review them for possible interactions. The use of a single pharmacy is also great way to make medication review simpler for everyone involved.

Another skill that can help is to know your meds and their side effects. Before beginning a new prescription, make sure to read the information provided by the pharmacist. Knowing about side effects is important. Asking questions about side effects is helpful, and one should let their doctor know about any unlisted side effects. These symptoms could be a result of interactions between medications.

How Home Care Can Help

Whether medical or non-medical, home care professionals can be a great resource for medication management. Skilled nurses can provide medication administration in the home, ensuring that the correct prescription and correct amount of medication is being taken. Non-medical home care professionals can be of great assistance by picking up prescriptions or accompanying older adults to the pharmacy. They can also provide an extra eye, noticing any changes in behavior or side effects that may be a result of polypharmacy.

Wilf at Home is committed is to providing quality and individualized in-home care, ensuring that we create an atmosphere of trust, respect, dignity, accountability, integrity and excellence. To learn more about the benefits of individualized home care, please call 732-649-3502 or email athome@thewilfcampus.org.