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