Improper use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs is a significant and growing issue among seniors. Nearly 50 percent of all adverse medical effects happen to people over the age of 60. Sometimes the problem comes from the medical community. Other times, it’s our parents themselves.
It’s no secret that as age increases, so do chronic health conditions. Because medicine has become so specialized, it’s common for elderly parents to have a number of doctors: a cardiologist for the heart, an electro-cardiologist for their pacemakers, a rheumatologist for arthritis, an allergist for gluten intolerance, an ophthalmologist for macular degeneration, an oncologist for cancer, and a general practitioner for their general medical needs.
You would like to think the primary care physician acts in the role of a gatekeeper keeping an accurate and up-to-date record of all your parents’ medications. For a number of reasons, this doesn’t happen. Doctors many times won’t ask what other medications are being taken. Seniors typically don’t volunteer what other doctors have prescribed, either.
It is also common for some doctors to renew prescriptions even when there is no longer a need for them. Others prescribe medications to counteract symptoms which may actually be medication-related. Because of changes in metabolism and organ function that occur as we age, the way our body processes drugs changes. The older we get, the less our body can tolerate drugs. That’s why it is important for aging parents to take medications properly. The problem is millions of seniors fail to take their medications as prescribed or they simply quit taking them altogether. It’s a big problem, too. The consequences can result in hospitalization or, even worse, end in death.
Adverse drug reaction and non-compliance are responsible for 28% of hospitalizations of the elderly.
-Source: American Society of Consulting Pharmacists
A study reported in a July 2007 Associated Press article found about half of the patients with chronic illnesses such as heart disease or asthma skip doses or otherwise muddle up their medication. Your mom may not start taking the drug because she doesn’t understand how or when to take it. Or, she may simply forget to take it. Pain in her hands from arthritis can keep her from opening the medicine bottles and that can prevent proper medication usage, too. Or she may simply not be able to read the label!
She may start feeling better and simply toss the rest of the bottle, thinking she doesn’t need it. According to the Assoicated Press story, poor medication management can add an extra $2,000 per year for each patient in extra doctor visits alone. Medication mismanagement is also responsible for 40 percent of nursing home admissions. Medication mismanagement is a hidden reason for hospital and nursing home admissions. Taking medications correctly is a simple way to help elderly parents lower their cost of care while eliminating unnecessary pain and suffering.