Polypharmacy, which is when a senior is on far too many medications for his or her own good, is a common problem among elders. It is common among seniors and anyone with multiple medical diseases. It can get to the point where the individual doesn't know what all he or she is taking and why, but what's worse is . . . even the physicians may not know either.
Being on too many medications can lead to potentially dangerous drug interactions and exposure to multiple drug side effects. Keep in mind, this applies not to just prescription medications, but also to over-the-counter supplements and herbal medications (which act like drugs in their own right but are without FDA regulation for quality standards since they fall into the "herbal" category).
This is not to say that taking medications for one's diseases or ailments is routinely a bad thing. It's often necessary to take medications. But when one is on a bunch of medications, it is important to take some time to think about several things and ask your doctor about it.
Questions to ask to avoid polypharmacy in the elderly
- What medications is my parent taking and why?
- How necessary is each medication? Can any be removed?
- Are any medications interacting with each other in a negative way?
- Could their medications be causing additional symptoms or conditions they are experiencing?
You might do better to schedule an appointment specifically dedicated to answering these questions, since it might not be easy to squeeze it all into a routine disease follow-up appointment. In order to properly get the answers to these questions, you need to make sure you always carry an accurate list of the medications (including supplements/herbals) you are taking. If necessary, bring bottles to the appointment. For the elderly patient, whose memory may not be so good, a family member will need to help put together the list. Have the medication list ready, updated and accurate before the appointment.
There may not be enough time for the doctor to thoroughly double-check your list during the appointment (especially if it's the routine 15-minute appointment). You would be surprised how often doctors are not fully aware of all the medications the patient is taking if they are on multiple medications, especially if they are prescribed by a variety of doctors and specialists. Although there may be a medication list on the electronic medical records, it can be outdated. Although there may be a med list taken by a nursing aide, it may not be thorough enough.
Doing all the suggestions above can help reduce the risk of polypharmacy. If doing it all on your own seems a challenge, a patient advocate can make this process easier.