Caring for an aging parent is a major responsibility; you have to make sure that mom and dad are physically safe, emotionally stable, and that their health care needs are met. One of the biggest challenges of senior care can be helping a parent manage his or her medications—especially if mom or dad is dealing with chronic health conditions. Many seniors have so many prescriptions that must be taken each day that they have to rely on pill-sorting boxes to keep them all straight. And things get even more complicated when studies are beginning to cast doubt on the effectiveness of two popularly prescribed types of medications.
Blood thinners like Coumadin, Warfarin, and Xarelto are frequently prescribed to elderly adults predisposed to blood clots or some types of heart disease to reduce the likelihood that a painful, and often dangerous, clot will form. Over a million people are in nursing homes in the United States, and 1 in 6 of these patients are taking anti-coagulants. However, studies have shown that these commonly prescribed medications may be implicated in the deaths of older adults—especially those in nursing care—far too often.
A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Medicine indicated that 34,000 nursing home residents suffered serious problems due to dosage mistakes with blood thinners, and the federal government has instructed senior health care inspectors from across the nation to be especially alert for errors of nursing home staff members in administering blood thinners. These mistakes can lead to serious harm to residents who are prescribed these powerful medications: If a resident is given too much of the blood thinner, uncontrolled bleeding can result. If a resident is given too little of a prescribed blood thinner, the medication will not be effective in preventing blood clots or strokes.
If one or both of your elderly parents takes blood thinners, there are a few precautions that you can take:
- Check with the doctor to make sure that these medicines are still needed. Sometimes, doctors prescribe blood thinners for a short time, and expect the patient to quit taking them after the initial problem is solved.
- Make sure the dosage is correct. If your loved one has gained or lost weight, the dosage they were prescribed may no longer be safe or effective.
- If your loved one is in the care of a home health nurse or nursing home, ask about safety protocols for administering blood thinners. If there isn't a protocol in place, push the director of the nursing home to develop one so that errors can be diminished.
Statins are a type of medication given to older adults who have high cholesterol to reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack. Even, in some cases, when other indications of heart disease are not present, your parent’s doctor may prescribe a statin like Lipitor and Crestor on a preventive basis. However, statins are not without their own risks and side effects. Experts recommend that physicians should talk to elderly patients and weigh the risks for each individual patient, considering the other medications that the patient is taking and their overall health status.
If your loved one takes statins but has no prior history of heart disease and no other indications of cardiovascular problems, speak with the prescribing doctor about the pros and cons of staying on these medications.
Over-prescription of medications is just as dangerous as under-prescribing.
Many doctors are pressed for time, and it can be hard to keep track of each patient's many medications—especially when it comes to seniors who are often prescribed medications by many different specialists and health care professionals. Each time you take mom or dad to the doctor, be sure that you have an accurate, up-to-date list of his or her medicines. Don't be afraid to ask questions about drug interactions and whether or not prescribed medications are the best treatment option for your parent’s health problems. After all, if you do not advocate for your parent, who will?