Medication and the Elderly: Key Prescription Drug Concerns

Medical problems are a thorny issue of eldercare that many caretakers and caregivers don’t want to acknowledge. Not accepting that your elderly loved one has declined and now requires another level of care can be dangerous. One key medical issue that is fraught with great potential for error involves prescription drugs. Medicine, widely considered the solution to health challenges in older people, is often one of the worst eldercare problems.

This article covers several of the primary issues for seniors related to medication, as well as suggestions for protecting the health of your elderly loved ones.

4 Top Medication Challenges for Seniors

Some of the most pressing concerns related to medication and the elderly include:

  • Polypharmacy: This refers to the treatment of medical problems with too many drugs at once, whether for one condition or many. In some instances, medications are obtained from multiple physicians, who may not be aware of the other prescriptions that their patient is taking.
  • ·Polymorbidity: This describes the simultaneous presence of two or more chronic diseases in a patient. If these conditions are treated improperly through pharmacology, drug reactions may result.
  • Addiction: Many elderly people abuse drugs to ease their pain. This abuse may manifest as a senior sneaking the use of substances like marijuana, not taking medications as prescribed or self-medicating with multiple over-the-counter drugs and/or alcohol. These addictive behaviors may require intervention or rehab center stays.
  • “Quackery”: Unscrupulous individuals often prey on the elderly by selling them so-called miracle cures for everything from “anti-aging” to heart disease and cancer. One example of quackery is the worthless copper bracelets that are touted as a cure for arthritis.

Issues with Medicare Part D

It seems like a straightforward process: When you’re sick, you visit a doctor, who prescribes medications to make you well. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and some medications end up being harmful to a patient’s health—yet licensed physicians prescribe them every day to elderly and disabled individuals.

Medicare Part D provides more than 35 million Americans with critical and sometimes life-sustaining prescriptions that they might not otherwise be able to afford. It’s an invaluable program, but it’s not without its flaws. While millions of prescription drugs are dispensed through Medicare Part D, the program doesn’t regulate the suitability of these medications for individual patients. Instead, decisions about which drugs to prescribe are left to treating physicians, many of whom are overloaded with patients and write an average of 137 prescriptions a day.

As a result, some doctors end up prescribing drugs that are harmful and addictive, as it’s difficult for them to keep up with research about a drug’s approved uses. This may lead to drugs being prescribed in unapproved ways, which can be ineffective at best and deadly at worst. Doctors may also receive perks from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for prescribing certain medications, which is a conflict of interest that may have disastrous consequences.

Given the lack of government oversight, it’s essential for Medicare patients—or the caregivers who are assisting them—to select their health care providers carefully. One online tool that can assist with this process is Prescriber Checkup, a comprehensive database that allows you to search for providers and see which drugs they prescribe.

Overseeing Your Loved One’s Prescription Drug Use

If you suspect that a loved one is being overmedicated, there are several steps you can take:

  • Keep a documentation log: Maintain your own records of medications your loved one has been prescribed, including all “as needed” drugs and supplements. Verify the medications and dosages with physicians at each visit.
  • Avoid polypharmia: When patients see multiple doctors or use several pharmacies, they may wind up with more prescriptions than they actually need. Be sure to understand exactly what drugs your loved one is taking and how they interact with one another.

If your loved one resides in a nursing home facility, you can also:

  • Speak to nursing home supervisors: If you visit your elderly relative at their nursing home and find them to be unusually sedated or behaving oddly, speak to the supervisor. Ask for an explanation for all medication and behavioral changes, which should be detailed in the patient’s medical chart.
  • Advocate for “redirection”: Redirection is a drug-free method of de-escalation that should be used before administering sedation. One example of this is removing a patient from an agitating situation. Medication should not be a medical staff’s first course of action in treating your elderly relative.

Medication can be both a blessing and a curse for the elderly. To protect the health of your loved one, keep detailed records of drugs and dosages, demand explanations for any changes in medications and talk to a nursing home director or primary care physician if you notice behavioral changes that may be related to medication.