Published: Nov 15, 2016
For some, taking medications is essential to maintaining health, and can’t be avoided. But evidence suggests - and experts agree - that millions of people are taking more medications than needed. The more drugs that are taken at the same time, the greater the risk of adverse interactions and potentially devastating side effects, due to the cumulative impact and the mixing of drugs.
Overmedication and taking multiple medications (technically called polypharmacy), are common and increasing to epidemic proportions among the senior population. Seniors are prone to more chronic conditions that require medication, but an aging body tolerates drugs differently and metabolizes drugs more slowly, making drug interaction a greater concern.
Contributing Factors: The main reason polypharmacy has increased over the past decade is that there are more drugs available for chronic illnesses - from high blood pressure and cholesterol to osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Improved diagnoses also enhance medication use. Marketing of drugs to consumers plays a role, as patients inquire about and demand the medicines they see advertised on TV and in magazines.
There also is a lack of coordination among insurers, doctors, and pharmacies. Patients may see multiple specialists who don’t coordinate with each other to discuss what drugs are being prescribed. It is then left to the patient to track it all, and some seniors are simply not prepared for that. Recent statistics show that on average, 1 out of every 4 patients have prescriptions from at least 4 different doctors.
In addition, it is often assumed that people need to take chronic disease medications for long periods, or the rest of their lives. Many who have marginally high cholesterol, high blood pressure and blood sugar can cut back on their medications if lifestyle changes bring their conditions under control - and there is too little emphasis on exploring those options. There’s also a fair amount of research suggesting that a sizable portion of people are taking antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and pain relievers when it is not necessary.
Potential Dangers: While drugs do save lives, few prescription medications are completely free of risks or side effects. A 2012 report by Bruyere, a Canadian health services organization, listed several factors that put seniors at increased risk from polypharmacy:
Polypharmacy also has an effect on cognition and the mental capacity of seniors. Overmedicated seniors have been mistakenly diagnosed with depression, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Recognize the Warning Signs: Knowing symptoms to watch for can help you determine if your loved one may be overmedicated. Potential signs include: drowsiness; physical complications, like dry mouth and ulcers; confusion; withdrawal from family or friends; hallucinations; dizziness or falls; fractures; and seizures. If your loved one experiences these warning signs or any sudden changes in behavior, notify a doctor immediately.
How to Cut Down on Prescriptions:
Comfort Keepers® can help. As part of our quality in-home care, our caregivers can aid in monitoring the right type, timing, and dosage of medications to help keep loved ones safe and healthy. We also offer some technical products as solutions. Contact us today to discover all of the services we offer.
ParentGiving. “Overmedication in the Elderly.” Web. 2016.
MedShadow. “Are Seniors Being Overmedicated?” by Steven Findlay. Web. 2015. Updated 2016.
AARP. “The Pharmacist Who Says No to Drugs.” by Bill Hogan. Web. 2011.
CareConversations. “Overmedication: Warning Signs to Watch For.” Web. 2016.