Clinical Study Outlines the Consequences of Polypharmacy in the Elderly

Polypharmacy is not uncommon among the elderly, particularly for those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. Here, the home care providers at Avila Home Care detail some of the consequences of polypharmacy as discussed in recent clinical studies.

 What is Polypharmacy?

Polypharmacy refers to the effects of taking multiple medications concurrently to manage coexisting health problems. Many pharmacological experts agree that polypharmacy also refers to the prescription of more medications than are medically necessary to treat a condition. Polypharmacy is quite prevalent among patients age 65 and older, with approximately 30% of older American adults taking five or more medications simultaneously. While there is no agreed upon cutoff point for the number of medications that constitutes polypharmacy, it is generally accepted that as the number of medications a patient takes increases, so does the number of potential complications and concerns.

 What are Some of the Negative Consequences of Polypharmacy?

While taking multiple medications is sometimes unavoidable, polypharmacy can lead to a wide variety of negative consequences. From a financial perspective, polypharmacy can have a negative impact due to the increased costs of healthcare both to the patient and to the system at large. One study showed a 30% increase in costs for patients and the healthcare system when patients were prescribed “potentially inappropriate medications,” leading to hospitalization.

Adverse drug events (ADEs) are also common among polypharmacy patients, which are injuries resulting from medical intervention relating to a drug. ADEs may include allergic reactions, medication errors and overdoses, among other issues. In one study, outpatients taking five or more medications had an 88% increased risk of experiencing an ADE compared to those taking fewer medications.

Polypharmacy can also lead to unforeseen side effects due to the combination of multiple drugs. Medications may counteract one another, exacerbate the side effects of other drugs or decrease their effectiveness. This is especially true when patients receive prescriptions or over-the-counter medications from more than one pharmacy or physician. Polypharmacy can even lead to an increased risk of delirium or falls in elderly patients, both of which are serious concerns for older adults.

Finally, polypharmacy can be inconvenient for the patients themselves. Many elderly patients can become confused by the various instructions for different medications, and it can become difficult to keep track of which medications should be taken when. Dosage mistakes can also be common in polypharmacy patients.

 What are some Interventions to Help Avoid or Reduce Complications with Polypharmacy?

While elderly adults may not always have the ability to reduce the number of medications they take, there are strategies to help ensure that complications are minimized. Keep a full list of the medications you regularly take, including the name, dosage and dosing instructions. You should bring this list with you to any appointments with your physician. Keep medications in a dry, secure location and do not share medications with others. Pill organizers can be helpful for those who take many medications each day.

Always take medications as instructed and in the dose they have been prescribed. Never take more or less of a medication unless your physician has modified your prescription. If you ever experience dizziness, confusion, shortness of breath or tightness in the chest after taking a medication, call 911 immediately. It is very important to discuss the side effects of the medications you take, as well as any effects you are personally experiencing, with your physician. No side effect should be considered too small to discuss with your doctor.

Having a home care provider, such as those at Avila Home Care, help you to take your daily medications can also be invaluable. Medication is an important part of many elderly adult’s daily health regimen, and with the help of a home care provider, the risk of complications can be greatly reduced. Home care providers can also accompany elderly adults to doctors appointments and even help them to pick up prescriptions from the pharmacy. To learn more about how one of the dedicated home care providers at Avila Home Care can help you to manage your medications and other aspects of aging-in-place, contact us today!


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