LookingForClues - Article

  Senior Drug Issues

Beware of these Senior Drug Issues!  People are living longer with the help of drugs.  But there are dangers when seniors take perscription drugs.  People sometimes take many different drugs that may be from more than one doctor.  Learn about Poly Pharmacy and Senior Drug Issues from a woman who has a Masters degree in Gerontology.
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Enjoy our exclusive Feature Article:

The Effects of Poly-Pharmacy on our Nation's Seniors

by Tara Cooke   6/7/11

Poly-Pharmacy is the term used to describe the occurrence of individuals being prescribed five or more medications to take each month. The majority of the members of our senior population fall into this category.

The challenge, or problem if you will, with this phenomenon has several facets to it. First, an increasing number of seniors do not know all of the medications that they take each day, nor are they aware as to why they are on certain medications. Second, some seniors choose to go to different pharmacies to obtain their medication. Third, some doctors treat the symptoms of an individual's complaints rather than researching the side effects of medications. Finally, our nation's seniors typically see more than one doctor. This creates a situation where more than one doctor is prescribing medication.

The first issue is concerning, as memory loss and confusion comes along with aging. Dementia, in one form or another, is the main cause for memory loss and confusion. A senior that is living on his or her own may not have a support network in place in order to deal with this change in their life. They rely heavily on health care professionals to make sure that their well-being is being considered at all times.

The second issue is concerning, as pharmacies that are of different establishments do not communicate with each other. That is, Walgreens does not communicate with Rite Aid and vice versa. While the majority of pharmacies keep a detailed record of their clientele's medication history and therefore can determine if any of the medications interact poorly with one another, this system cannot help if they do not have a complete record of a client's medication.

The third issue is most concerning. While doctors are not purposefully trying to harm seniors, they are inadvertently creating situations that cause them harm. This situation could be due to their overloaded schedules and therefore reduced amount of time that they can spend with each patient.

The finial issue encompasses all of the prior issues mentioned above. If the senior does not tell each doctor all of the medications that have been prescribed, if they are going to different pharmacies, and if all of the doctor's are prescribing medications based on curing the symptoms, then we have the poly-pharmacy issue.

AARP in an article entitled, AARP and Walgreens Announce Alliance to Educate the 50+ Population about Important Health Topics (2006) discusses this issue. The article states, "One important topic that the alliance will address is how to manage the risks associated with taking multiple medications prescribed by different doctors." It goes on to state that the alliance will create pamphlets that the pharmacists can distribute to members of this population and their caregivers.

Most doctors' offices have a system that gives them the capability of electronically submitting a prescription to a preferred pharmacy. With the advent of this technology, seniors are better protected by the health care system, as the medications are then being sent to one pharmacy. This allows the pharmacists to track each medication that the senior is on, allowing them to monitor drug interaction.

A newer field of study has evolved due to the increased number of medications that are being consumed in our society. This new profession is called Geriatric Pharmacy. A Geriatric Pharmacist is educated on the medications, their interactions and side effects associated with our senior population. As more students become interested in this field, this could alleviate some of the causes associated with poly-pharmacy.

On Cape Cod Massachusetts, the local hospital has recently put a Geriatric Pharmacist on their staff. One function of this individual's job is to go to either the homes or the long-term care facilities that the seniors live in, after they have been released from the hospital. He then evaluates the level of knowledge regarding the medication regimen in the senior and associated caregiver. The medications are then reviewed to determine if any can be removed. This eliminates the medications that have been prescribed that focus on correcting the symptoms, rather than focusing on side effects of current medications.

Our society is only getting older. The baby boomers are entering old age quickly and in large numbers. The vast number of individuals associated with this generation will require our health care system to evaluate their current systems. Medication is contributing to individuals being able to live longer than they have in past generations. This creates a need in our society to ensure that the needs of these individuals, on many fronts, are being considered and brought to the forefront. The information and research exists, or will soon exist, to help the members of our aging population live happier and healthier in their senior years.

Tara loves helping people and has a Masters degree in Gerontology with a concentration in research. Her career goal is to use research to inform policy makers about issues concerning our Senior population.


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