Do you know the name of every medication you’re taking and why it was prescribed?
Forty percent of older adults take five or more prescription drugs each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The clinical term to describe the issue is polypharmacy – defined as the concurrent use of multiple medications, common among seniors. Administering multiple medications can feel like a juggling act for many seniors, and Anthology Senior Living is dedicated to improving seniors’ quality of life through medication management.
“Medications are generally safe when following the label and while under the care of a qualified physician,” says Peggy Brekke, Vice President of Clinical Services at Anthology Senior Living, “but the regular use of multiple prescription drugs must be closely monitored for any redundancies or potentially harmful drug interactions.”
Medication management is one of the first steps Anthology Senior Living clinicians take when a new resident joins the community.
“When residents arrive at our community, they’ll typically bring with them a large number of medications, and it is not uncommon to learn that the medications were not being administered correctly,” says Brekke.
Improper use of medications can lead to multiple symptoms and negative outcomes. A negative outcome can occur when one specialist isn't aware of what another specialist has prescribed, and as a result a senior may take two medications that do the same thing. In some instances, a senior, family member or caregiver is not clear about the full list of prescriptions or the purpose of the medications and may fail to pick them up or refill them on time.
When taking multiple drugs at the same time, there may be contraindications, which are conditions that make a particular treatment or procedure potentially inadvisable. Contraindications can cause a senior to feel sick, dizzy or tired. In turn, this can lead to another medication being prescribed for that "symptom," possibly causing further complications. Another potential risk occurs when combining over-the-counter medications and supplements. Many people aren’t aware that these can cause harmful side effects or interactions.
For each resident, Anthology Senior Living creates a customized care plan, including a review of all medications and their potential interactions. At the community level, clinicians maintain a quality-assurance program around safety practices, auditing, and the verification of new medication orders. Information gets centralized in an electronic record which is shared with the primary care physician and reviewed by one of Anthology Senior Living’s national pharmacy providers every 90 days.
For roughly 14 million seniors living at home, here are Anthology Senior Living’s top five tips to help improve medication management for yourself or a loved one.
1. Take Medications as Prescribed
It may sound simple, but it is important to take medications as prescribed. Some eye-opening statistics from the CDC: Medication is not taken as prescribed 50 per cent of the time, and 20 to 30 percent of new prescriptions are never even filled. Yet taking medications as prescribed is essential in treating both chronic and short term conditions. You can reduce the risk of complications by carefully following the instructions on your medications and by asking questions of your healthcare provider if you need clarity on any aspect of taking your medicines, such as dose, time(s) of day, how long to continue taking the medication, and whether or not a refill will be needed once the prescribed number of pills have been taken. At the same time, do let your physician know if you are experiencing undesired side effects, and discuss if adjustments to the prescription could help.
2. Organize Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs
Sort your medications. Some may be prescription medications while others may be over-the-counter (OTC) medicines or supplements. Prescription medications are prescribed by a doctor whereas over-the-counter medicines can be obtained without a prescription. Over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and supplements could have adverse effects or harmful interactions when combined with prescription medications, so it is important to have an accurate account of every medicine you are taking. Keep a list of all medications you are taking, and consider investing in a pill organizer so you can stay on top of your medication regime.
3. Understand the Label and Ask Questions
Whenever you use a medication, reading the label is an important step in taking care of yourself and your loved ones. If the information on the drug label is unclear or you have questions, consult your healthcare provider. According to Consumer Reports, more than half a million Americans misinterpret prescription drug labels each year. Both prescription and over the counter drug labels include safety information, directions for use, warnings, medication guides, and other information. Before you start taking a new medication, review the drug label with your health care provider and let them know of any health conditions you have, and any medications and supplements you take.
4. Review Medications with Your Primary Care Doctor on a Regular Basis
Bring a complete list of your prescription medications, vitamins and supplements to your next primary care physician visit. If you haven’t created your list of medications, bring in your pill bottles and labels. Review the medications and dosages that have been prescribed to you, and whether you are actually taking these medications regularly. Discuss any known allergies you’ve had to medications and let your doctor know any specialists. Prepare to ask your doctor these questions: are there drugs on your list that you should no longer be taking? Could two or more of your medications cause harm if taken together? It is best to talk with a single health provider, ideally your primary care physician, about all of your prescription and OTC medicines. At Anthology Senior Living, we complete a medication review process every 90 days for all members of our community. Mark a date on your calendar every 90 days to review your medications.
5. Review Your Diet
Certain medications cannot be taken with certain foods or drinks. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grapefruit can affect the rate at which your liver processes drugs, potentially causing adverse effects when taking certain medications. Some green, leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli can counteract the effectiveness of blood thinners used to prevent strokes. We advise consulting your doctor and reviewing your diet for any potentially dangerous interactions caused by food or drink. It is also important to be aware if you should take medications on an empty stomach or with meals.
Medication management is an important aspect of caring for the whole person. “It’s a joy when a resident experiences our medication management program and says, ‘I feel so much better.’ ” says Brekke.