Nurse counselling family

Drug Use and Seniors

1 in 5 over age 65 are taking 10 or more prescription medications, 1 in 20 are taking 15 more so reports Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI). Not included in that total: the number of times a day meds are taken and non-prescription products. Not detailed are medications taken to counteract side effects of medications, and whether medications are being taken properly.

That’s lot of chemistry and chemicals acting, reacting and and interacting in our bodies and huge room for error: the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports more than a million (U.S.) hospitalizations and emergency room visits are the result of an ‘adverse event’.

Some of the medication errors I’ve heard about, that can lead to serious harm:

  • Directions said: take one when you wake up. 80-year old man nods off during the day, and takes one every time he wakes up. This is only discovered at a family get together when his 3 children realize they’ve each been getting his prescription refilled.
  • Capsules for an ear infection: put in the ear instead of swallowing.
  • Capsule for a puffer wrenched out of puffer-enclosure and swallowed.
  • Take twice a day interpreted as two capsules two times daily taken 15 minutes apart.

An Australian study, focusing on why seniors are particularly at risk for medication errors: large quantities of medication, trouble opening the package, trouble swallowing, troubling side effects, and confusion — often caused by medications.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH): Choose to Change: A Client-Centered Approach to Alcohol and Medication Use by Older Adults, details outward appearances –  resulting from multiple medications — that mimic alcoholism and dementia: Confusion, disorientation, recent memory loss,slowed thought process, loss of muscle coordination, tremors, gastritis, depression, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, malnutrition, dehydration.

Dr. Paula Rochon, VP Research at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, whose passion is medications as relates to the elderly, her strong recommendation: “Get medications reviewed regularly by a pharmacist. ”

To this, I add think about how medications fit into a person’s lifestyle and abilities:

  • If a pill is so large it’s hard to swallow, ask about tips to make it swallowing easier.
  • Get specific about how to take it: if you’re not a big breakfast eater, and the meds indicate ‘take in the morning with with food’ determine, for your purposes, what’s considered ‘food’.

Check out 10-second Med School and ask questions that will help fit these meds into your lifestyle.

In conversation with Percy Skuy, Pharmacist, teacher of pharmacy students and former President of a Johnson&Johnson company, it was a revelation when he asked his pharmacy students their interpretation of ‘take three times a day with food’.

“Pharmacy student’s answers showed huge margin for error interpreting three times a day with food, and brought into question important safety issues. ”

If Pharmacy students are confused how are we supposed to figure it out?

To explore: Four Medications cause most hospitalizations

Proud Octogenerians and myths about aging