Polypharmacy in the Elderly: Definition, Risks, Symptoms, Preventions & Tips

What is Polypharmacy?Polypharmacy-Elderly-Day

Polypharmacy is the use of multiple prescription drugs at once. Modern medicine allows us to live longer lives, but for many, this is dependent on taking many medications each day, which can be confusing as we age.

Polypharmacy in the Elderly

Seniors are more likely to take multiple medications than younger people due to their age and aging in general. This can have challenges for patients. As one medication is prescribed for a health condition, another may need to be prescribed to treat the side effects. This is how the elderly are commonly lead to a polypharmacy state. According to a medical study in Ohio, roughly one-third of seniors take five or more prescriptions on a daily basis.

What are the Dangers of Geriatric Polypharmacy?

Why is this such a large concern in the elderly? It is often necessary for geriatric patients to take multiple medications, but it always comes with risks. As people age, the organs that clear drugs from our systems become less efficient at their job. Along with the metabolic changes that we see with aging, it leaves elderly people at a far greater risk of having an adverse drug effect or an unintended effect from a normal dosage. The more medications that the geriatric community is given, the more likely they will suffer an adverse drug event. 

What are the Symptoms of Polypharmacy?

It’s estimated that up to 62% of the elderly are impacted by improper medication use. Most of the symptoms are associated with growing older and these are not always spotted immediately. Symptoms include dry mouth, feeling less alert, sleepiness, confusion, depression, anxiety, dizziness and weakness. Polypharmacy is more important in elderly patients because they may not be able to afford all of their medications on a daily basis. They may leave off one on one day and another on another day. This can lead to ER visits, additional needs for care and hospitalizations. Polypharmacy can also lead to under treatment by physicians because they can become hesitant to continue prescribing medications to a patient who already takes several per day.

Prevention of Polypharmacy in Older Adults

There is appropriate polypharmacy and inappropriate polypharmacy. Many times, it is necessary to take several medications and even to use medications that are contraindicated for use together. This makes it very important for elderly patients to do a review of all their medications and keep all of their doctor’s appointments to make certain that the same medications are all working properly together.

One of the largest concerns that attribute to inappropriate polypharmacy is having multiple medical providers. Individual physicians or specialists may not be looking at the overall big picture and only be treating a single condition without regard to other medications that a patient is already taking. 

Tips to Get a Senior to Take Their Medications

Forgetfulness comes with aging and remembering to take their medications or taking them twice on the accident is very common with the geriatric community. There are a few tips that can help you to serve as a reminder for taking medications.

Make certain that the patient has someone to put their medications into a pill holder with the correct dosage of each medication. The pill holder should have the days of the week on it and have as many as four different times on taking the medications. You can put a piece of tape on the cover and mark the appropriate time to take each dose if need be. You should also have a calendar with large print hanging somewhere that it is easily seen. This in conjunction with the empty compartment in a pillbox will also serve as a reminder that the medications have already been taken. 

The best idea is to place the pill holder in an area where it is seen and not in a closed cabinet. Medications can be next to the coffee pot, next to the toothbrush in the bathroom or on a bedside table. You may need separate pill holders to place in different areas so your seniors can see them and it will trigger them to take their medications.

You can associate an activity, such as getting dressed in taking their morning medications. Linking any daily activity to the medications can help them to remember to take the pills at the right time of the day.

You can purchase an automatic pill dispenser that sends out multiple alarms in a day for the elderly with memory, vision or hearing impairment. These dispensers can be loaded and locked to prevent double-dosing.

You can set an alarm on a cell phone to go off at the appropriate times for taking medications to remind the geriatric patient of the time. 

Hiring the best home health care in St. Louis can make certain that your elderly loved ones take medications as prescribed and they can also keep an eye on them to monitor and report any medication problems.

Choose a Great Pharmacy

Unfortunately, the prices of medications are always on the rise. Help an elderly patient to choose one great pharmacy for all of their prescriptions. It’s becoming more popular to use separate pharmacies for a particular medication that can be bought at a much lower price. The problem with using multiple pharmacies is that drugs, which should not be given together will often, go unnoticed. Most pharmacies have a check-in place so that if two medications shouldn’t be given together, they will alert the pharmacist to look farther into dispensing the drugs and they can call the prescribing physician to make certain it’s okay.

For many people, polypharmacy is essential to their health. However, never lose sight of the potential dangers of using multiple medications. A double-dose or a forgotten dose of a necessary medication can result in a devastating result if your elderly family member doesn’t have a great system to remind them to take their medications at the same time every day.