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Why Polypharmacy in Older Adults is Such a Big Deal. And What Can Be Done to Prevent it.
posted 01.12.2016

Each year 175,000 adults age 65 and older will be seen in an ER in the United States due to adverse drug reactions. Why does this happen? And what can we do to help our older clients and loved ones with medication management?

Older adults take a lot of prescription medications.

Despite only accounting for 13% of the population, people over the age of 65 are taking one third of all medications prescribed in the United States and consume 40% of all over-the-counter medications. On average, people between the ages of 55 and 64 take one to four prescriptions.

The more prescriptions a person takes, the greater the risk for non-compliance.

Common compliance issues include forgetting to take a medication, forgetting that the medication had already been taken, neglecting to fill a prescription and stopping the medication prematurely.

What can be done?

Keep a list of all drugs (both prescription and OTC) that your older client or loved one is currently taking.

According to Edward Schneider, M.D., a professor at USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, issues caused by polypharmacy, like adverse drug reactions, can come up due to silos within medicine, so be sure that your client or loved one is providing that list to all their healthcare providers, not just their primary care doctor.

You might also be interested in: Health and Wellness in an Aging Society

This 5-week online course is taught by the experts at USC's Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and offered in partnership with the American Society on Aging. Course content includes polypharmacy and medication management. 

Enroll in Health and Wellness or Fundamentals of Gerontology today

Not a member of the American Society on Aging yet? Save $50 on your individual professional membership with discount code USC6 when you also enroll in an online course.

Encourage your older client or loved one to talk to their pharmacist.

New research has shown that if pharmacists take just one extra minute to interact with patients about their medications, compliance improves by as much as 50%. This new method of counseling, which is gaining wider acceptance across the nation, requires the pharmacist to ask questions about the patient’s understanding of their prescription and answer questions when they don’t understand. 

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