With the average American senior spending more than $670 dollars a year on pharmaceuticals, chances are that, if you’re over 65, you take at least one prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication to promote wellness as a senior. In fact, older adults are the single greatest consumer of pharmaceuticals in the United States. Seniors represent 13% of the population but more than 32% of prescriptions that are written every year. These high numbers are reflected in high rates of polypharmacy among older adults.
What is Polypharmacy?
Polypharmacy is the general term describing the use of multiple medications; it typically carries the connotation of taking too many prescription or OTC drugs.
The more medications you take, the greater your chances are of having an adverse reaction. Therefore polypharmacy becomes a risk to senior wellness in those instances when too many forms of a medication are taken by an individual or when more pharmaceuticals have been prescribed than are clinically warranted by a medical condition.
What are the signs or symptoms?
In addition to the exorbitant expense of taking a large number of medications, there are a number of symptoms and side effects associated with the adverse drug reactions that result from polypharmacy:
- Dizziness and unsteadiness which can increase your risk for falls and potentially fatal injuries
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Confusion, nervousness, and a generally lower quality of senior life
- Incontinence or a resurgence of symptoms treated by your medications
What can I do?
If you take five or more medications, you may be at risk for polypharmacy, but practicing medicine safety can decrease your chances of suffering adverse effects.
Be Informed. You should always know the names and purpose of all the medications you are taking. Store a list of all your medicines in a safe place— make sure to include the dosage, the name of the doctor who prescribed it, and the reason you are taking the medicine. Bring the list when you talk to your doctor or pharmacist so you can ask about any new medications.
Stay organized. You can avoid double dosing and stay on track with your medications by organizing them in a weekly or monthly pillbox.
Stay on schedule. Forgetting medication will be a thing of the past when you make sure you’re taking your pills by posting notes around the house to remind you when you need to take your medicines each day.
Be open. You should always talk to your health care provider about all the medicines, remedies, and vitamins you use. This will help your doctor make sure it is safe for you to take all of them together. Make sure to include any over-the-counter (OTC) medicines you buy without a prescription. These can include things like the pain relievers you use for minor arthritis pain, cough syrups for colds, or even vitamins and supplements. This is especially important if you see more than one senior care provider or fill prescriptions at multiple pharmacies.
The FDA and the National Institutes on Aging recommend asking your doctor or senior care provider 7 questions about every medication:
- What is the name of the medicine, and why am I taking it?
- What medical condition does this medicine treat?
- How many times a day and how much medicine should I take? For how long?
- How long will it take to work?
- What should I do if I miss a dose?
- Are there any side effects I should know about? When should I call you if I am having side effects?
- Can I safely mix this medicine with the remedies, vitamins, and OTC drugs I am taking?