If you are a caregiver to an older loved one, you may find it a bit overwhelming to keep up with all the medications they take each day, and the times of day they take them. But have you thought about the potential side effects as well? The average older adult living independently is taking more than five prescription medications daily, and those in nursing homes may be taking at least seven prescription medications. We call this “polypharmacy.” We all have at least some sense of the side effects that many of these medications may carry, but what you may not know is that some of these medications have some unhealthy interactions with the other medications.
Recent research in the United States among older adults living independently found interactions between drugs in about 15% of the cases. In another study in Europe that tracked older patients being discharged from hospitals, as many as 70% were on medications with some interactions, and 24% were at risk for serious interactions among the drugs they were taking when they were discharged.
What should you look for? Review the medications your older loved one takes looking specifically for these medications:
• Statins – the drugs used to lower cholesterol
• Proton Pump Inhibitors – the drugs that work against GERD or acid reflux
• Antibiotics – the real offenders tend to be sulfa drugs or fluoroquinolones
• NSAIDs – these are the pain relievers like Naprosyn, Motrin, etc.
• SSRIs – these include the anti-depressants like Prozac, Celexa, Paxil
• Calcium-Channel Blockers – like Norvasc
• Warfarin – the blood thinner also known as Coumadin.
This seems like a short list…no problem. The fact is that statins are the most commonly prescribed drug for older adults. More than half of those over age 55 are prescribed statins to lower their LDL. About one in five older adults in America take PPIs. And you can see with the number of medications your older loved one may take the likelihood of an interaction escalates. And some of these drugs also do not play nice with certain food groups or vitamins.
If you see signs of muscle weakness, cramping or difficulty standing or walking, as well as fatigue or confusion, check in with your loved one’s doctor. But if you really want to be proactive take the list of the medications your loved one consumes regularly to your local pharmacist…and don’t forget to add the over the counter medications which can include PPIs or NSAIDs as well as an accurate assessment of alcohol intake. And next time you accompany your loved one to a physician’s office visit and the doctor recommends a new prescription, ask what can be taken from the list!
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.