Medication Problems in the Elderly
January 6, 2012 Health

Medication Problems in the ElderlyThe senior years are often marked by one or more chronic diseases and the need for lifelong use of certain medication. Although not all elderly people will be afflicted with a chronic disease or need to use chronic medication, the vast majority suffer with common age-related problems like high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia), diabetes mellitus and osteoporosis (brittle bones). These diseases, like many others, are not exclusively seen in the elderly but are more likely to occur in the senior years. Long term use of medication is often the only effective option for proper management. However, there may be several problems associated with both short term (acute) and chronic use of medication in the elderly. This includes drugs prescribed by a doctor (prescription drugs) and medication purchased without a prescription (over-the-couter or OTC drugs).

Missing and Stopping Medication

One of the most common problems associated with the use of medication in the elderly is not following a proper regimen especially missing a dose. Although these problems do not only occur in elderly patient, it is more likely to be seen in the senior who is :

Less commonly, side effects of certain medication and seeking alternative health therapies may cause a person to discontinue medication.

Medication Side Effects

Side effects are a common problem with acute or chronic medication. In some cases, the medication can be changed for alternative drugs that are better tolerated by a person or has less side effects. This does not preclude the possibility of side effects occurring in the future. These side effects can at times cause greater discomfort to a person than the actual disease. If these adverse effects are not life threatening however, it has to be tolerated where there are no other options for changing the drug or stopping the medication can have serious implications.

Drug Interaction

If more than one medication is used simultaneously, there is a risk of drug interactions. This means that one drug changes the action and effect of another drug and may render a drug ineffective, exacerbate its effect or lead to side effects. In most cases, a person on several types of medication for different chronic diseases can rest assured that their doctor has taken possible drug interactions into account. However, it may still occur even with proper medical supervision. At other times, drug interactions occur because patients do not use the medication as prescribed or start over-the-counter medication without first consulting with a doctor.

Medication Dosage

The quantity of medicine and the frequency it is used is prescribed by a doctor or pharmacist. For over-the-counter (OTC) medication, the directions for use are clearly indicated on the bottle. Sometimes problems with dosage arises when :

  • tolerance to the drug changes over time.
  • confusion or miscommunication arises relating to medication use.
  • extra dose is taken to cover up for a missed dose.
  • poor eyesight, like age-related vision problems, leads to the directions of use being misread.
  • the dosage is changed without first consulting with a doctor possibly due to side effects or reduced effectiveness of the drug.

Medication Storage and Expiry

All drugs need to be stored under specific conditions and have a limited lifespan. One of the most common issues relating to problems with medication is storing the drug in unsuitable conditions. While in most cases this will not have an immediate adverse effect, it can compromise the drug over a period of time. It is important to adhere to expiry dates in medication packaging as the potency and safe use of the drug cannot be guaranteed beyond the stipulated date. This is especially the case for medication that has already been opened or stored in unsuitable conditions for long periods of time.

Avoiding Medication Problems

These problems with medication use can occur in any person of any age. Medication use in seniors is greater than any other age group. Therefore these problems are more likely to arise in the elderly apart from other age-related conditions that may lead to errors. The key to safe medication use with maximum benefit includes :

  • using a drug as prescribed at all times.
  • consulting regularly with the doctor for follow-up evaluation.
  • seeking medical advice before starting any other medication, including herbal products and nutritional supplements.
  • avoiding medication use with alcohol ingestion.
  • inquiring with a medical professional if the drug seems to be ineffective or causing side effects before increasing/decreasing the dosage or stopping the drug altogether.
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