The Top 3 Medication Problems in the Elderly

The majority of older adults take prescription medications. This is primarily because as we age, we experience more health problems. Prescription medications have the potential to improve health and medical outcomes when taken properly.  Unfortunately, there are many barriers to medication adherence. In fact, it's estimated that 1 in 5 new prescriptions are never even filled. 

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Here are the Top 3 Medication Problems for the Elderly:

  1. Inappropriate use

 The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), a division of Medicare, uses the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) Beers Criteria to identify medications which are not recommended for use in older adults. These include:

  • High Risk Medications in the Elderly
  • Potentially Harmful Drug-Disease Interactions in the Elderly

So what medications might your elderly parent be taking on this list? You might be surprised.  

Common medications include antihistamines like Bendryl (diphenhydramine) which are not recommended due to their high risk of causing dizziness and falls. Also included are sleeping medications; Ambien (zolpidem), and benzodiazepines like temazepam, lorazepam, clonazepam – all seriously increase the risk of falls and cause major memory problems, worsening dementia.

  1. Non-adherence (not taking as prescribed)

There are a variety of reasons why people don’t take their prescription medications as the doctor prescribed. Forgetfulness, unaffordability of the medication, unwillingness to admit to health problems, unpleasant side effects, or having to take too many pills are a few reasons why anyone, including an elderly parent, might not take their medications.  Addressing these concerns is the first step to fixing non-adherence. 

  1. Taking an unnecessary medication

An unnecessary medication includes any medication that is being used: 

  • in excessive dose (including duplicate drug therapy)
  • for excessive duration
  • without adequate monitoring
  • without adequate indication (reason) for its use

So how can we advocate for change? What are some strategies for older adults and our aging parents to address these medication problems? Here are a couple of ideas:

  1. Many Medicare beneficiaries are eligible for an annual free Complete Medication Review (medication management) with a pharmacist, where each of the patient's medications are evaluated, offering an opportunity to address cost, adherence, dose, duration, and side effects. 
  2. You can check out the Beers Criteria or this article about alternative medications and then discuss with your doctor at your next appointment if you're taking any of these medications.  Specifically ask: "Are there any medications I could stop taking?" 
  3. Use a medication reminder tool such as: 
    • A medication reminders app for smart phones, like MediSafe 
    • Automated pill boxes or vials with reminder alarms, like e-Pill
    • Some retail pharmacies offer free reminder text messaging 
    • Some insurance companies offer free reminder emails, texts, or phone calls

 Although medication problems are common in the elderly and aging population, there are definite ways to address them. Many retail pharmacies, insurance companies, and accountable care organizations offer the opportunity to schedule a time to talk with a pharmacist. 

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If you found this information helpful, you may also want to check out:

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