While everyone is awaiting the next vaccine to prevent COVID-19 or help in the treatment of the condition among those who have contracted the virus, too many Americans already suffer from medicinal proliferation. Too much of a good thing happens to too many seniors who are over-prescribed.
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? Ask one or more of these questions when you accompany your older loved one to their next medical appointment:
- Is the symptom the physician is about to treat a side effect of a medication they already are taking?
- Is there a safer drug to replace any of the medications your loved one is already taking?
- Can a lower dose of a prescribed medication be tried with any on the list?
- Does my loved one need to take any of these drugs at all?
And if you feel really bold ask how diet and exercise may be used to replace taking a drug. For instance, a balanced diet with enough vegetables and fruits can address diarrhea. Reducing consumption of sweets or other carbohydrates can alleviate pre-diabetic or diabetic symptoms. And getting up and walking can lower one’s high blood pressure and reduce weight as well. And all of the above can improve those feelings of melancholy that are far too common during this COVID quarantine.
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. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.