Multiple Medications

Got a headache, back pain, high cholestrol levels, etc?...then pop a pill.  That is often the "magic" solution in today's health care system.  According to the American Heart Association, 32 million Americans take 3 or more medications daily.  Seniors often take double or triple that amount and sometimes more.  The problem is, is that with all medications come potential side effects and then to treat those side effects people are often prescribe another medication and so on.  Another problem is that seniors often have multiple physicians who often are not aware of what the other physicians' treatment plans are and what medications they are prescribing.  According to Medco Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefits manager, "the risk for drug errors is 7 times greater in seniors than in people under age 65."  CNN.com released an excellent article this week titled "Is Grandma drugged up?"  This article tells a story of a 66 year old woman who was experiencing confusion and slurring of her words.  Her family took her to the emergency room where the possibility of a stroke was ruled out; she was admitted to the hospital and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.  Her children believed that the diagnosis was incorrect, as she has been functioning independently.  They took their mother to a geriatrician at the University of Oklahoma for a second opinion, where they were told that she most likely did not have Alzheimer's Disease but was overmedicated.  Dr. Jerry Gurwitz's philosophy is "that any new symptom in an older person should be considered a drug side effect until proven otherwise."  Not only do medications have side effects but they also interact with other medications causing contraindications, enhancing side effects, etc.  It is important to always keep a current list of medications, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal medications and supplements.  All medications, not just prescriptions, can interact with each other, as well as, food/beverages and other substances i.e. tobacco.

There are several ways caregivers can assist in medication management.  If you feel that your parent is being overmedicated, talk with your primary care physician or geriatrician, and pharmacist.  There are also several online tools you can use to check your medications for interactions.  Here are two online tools:  PDRhealth.com and drugdigest.org.  Educating yourself on what medications cause potential problems for seniors is a good way to become an advocate for your parent.  As well as knowing the suggested lists of medications to avoid if a senior has a specific diagnosis.  My Health Care Manager also reviews seniors' health history and medications and can consolidate that information into one locale to assist families in managing their parent's health care.