Use of Multiple Medications Threatens Health

As people age, it’s not uncommon for health concerns and problematic conditions to increase. Older adults may, with or without their providers’ knowledge, decide to take various vitamins and supplements in an attempt to combat perceived health difficulties or achieve a health status promised by enthusiastic television commercials.

Additionally, chronic conditions, such as diabetes and atrial fibrillation, require the use of prescription medications to maintain health. For people who take numerous medications on a regular basis, the various medicines’ properties interacting with each other can cause serious problems. Taking multiple drugs, termed polypharmacy, occurs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes multiple prescribers are unaware of medications prescribed by other physicians. Or a patient may continue to take a medication prescribed during a hospital stay that has become unnecessary upon discharge.

In any event, polypharmacy poses a serious danger to people who take five or more medications concurrently. And older adults are at significantly higher risk of adverse drug reactions. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, studies indicate that among people aged
65 and older, nearly 40% took five or more drugs. Drug interactions can cause adverse drug events, resulting in changes in functional status, falls, cognitive impairment and other related physical decline.

It’s important for your provider to be aware of all medications you’re taking—including vitamins and supplements. Keep a list of each drug, the condition or diagnosis for which it is prescribed, and the dosage. If new medications are prescribed, be sure to add them to the list. Be sure to take your medication list with you for each visit. It may be possible to eliminate a drug or reduce a dosage, which can have both physical and financial advantages. Review your medication list
with your provider and make a list of questions you have regarding any medication on the list.

Be particularly vigilant in circumstances where your care environment changes, for example, going from home to the hospital or from the hospital to a nursing home. Make sure providers in each setting are aware of all prescribed medications you’re taking, and review medication lists every time there’s a transfer in your care.

Pharmacists, too, can be helpful in answering questions or addressing concerns you may have about medications prescribed for you. For people with complicated medication regimens, pharmacists can help with medication therapy management reviews and can help to identify patients who may qualify for medication assistance programs.

Become proactive in managing your medications, taking your medication list with you to every physician appointment. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if there are concerns around any drugs you’ve been prescribed. Medications are designed to enhance your health status and you can play a role in helping drugs achieve optimal results.

Author
Ithaca Primary Care

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