For older adults, prescription drugs are not only a necessary part of managing illnesses, but are a common part of everyday life, too. But if your loved ones take multiple medications, it can be hard to predict how one drug might interact with another – and these interactions can have unintended and potentially harmful side effects.
Are your loved ones at risk?
To help determine whether your aging loved ones may be experiencing an inappropriate medication interaction, ask yourself these questions:
- Have you noticed them sleeping in later than usual?
- When you have lunch or dinner together, do they eat as much as they normally would?
- When you ask them about their day, do they lose their train of thought?
- Have you noticed them stumbling or losing their balance more?
- Have you noticed any unusual rashes on their arms or hands?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you and your loved ones should consider taking a closer look at their medications.
The dangers of polypharmacy
While these signs can sometimes be mistaken as common parts of aging, an older adult may actually be experiencing these negative symptoms or conditions due to polypharmacy – commonly defined as the use of four or more medications.
Polypharmacy is becoming increasingly common in older adults. Recent studies have found that more than a third of people age 65 to 85 were taking five or more prescription medications, while almost two-thirds were using dietary supplements, and nearly 40 percent took over-the-counter drugs.
And when the complex substances that make up each medication interact in the body, they can sometimes cause potentially harmful side effects such as tiredness, confusion, loss of appetite, skin rashes and more. Other common symptoms include weakness or dizziness, which can increase your loved one’s risk for falls – one of the leading causes of injuries in seniors.
Take steps to help
There are a number of things you can do to help reduce the risk of an older loved one experiencing negative effects of polypharmacy.
A helpful first step is to organize your loved one’s pill bottles or medicine cabinets so it’s clear they know what medication they’re taking. This can be very helpful for older adults with vision problems, as they may not be able to read labels clearly.
You can also consider purchasing a pill organizer to help make their daily routine easier. Having their medications organized in a clear, easy to follow way can help them avoid any missed doses or irregular combinations.
Another way to address this issue is to create a list of the medications your loved ones are taking. Help them go through their medicine cabinets and drawers to collect everything from their heart medication to their daily multivitamin.
Even if an older adult only takes a few pills, it’s helpful to have a detailed account of each medication and the known side effects. This information is critically important for physicians, who can evaluate any dangerous interactions and make recommendations or adjustments to the medications an older adult is taking.
Communication is key
Studies have shown that many adults simply don’t tell their primary care doctors about their most commonly used medicines, increasing the risk of an inappropriate medication interaction.
One of the best ways to avoid negative symptoms of polypharmacy is for you, your loved ones and their physicians to openly communicate about the medications your loved ones take. By gaining a clear understanding of the situation, you can all work together to determine the appropriate forms of treatment.