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The Importance Of Medication Adherence For Seniors

The Importance of Medication Adherence for Seniors

When seniors don’t take their medications as prescribed, or don’t take them at all, it can have severe health consequences. In fact, medication non-adherence is a problem that runs rampant through the healthcare system today, and one that is very hard to correct. That means that an estimated three out of four Americans do not take their medications as directed.

According to Today’s Geriatric Medicine, if medication non-adherence were a disease, it could be called an epidemic. One study has shown that more than 50% of prescription drugs are not taken as directed. Medication non-adherence accounts for more than 10% of older adult hospital admissions, nearly one-fourth of nursing home admissions, and 20% of preventable adverse drug events among older persons in the ambulatory setting. That is a serious problem.

The reasons for non-adherence are as varied as seniors themselves:

  • Forgetfulness and confusion
  • Lack of understanding about what the medication is for
  • They are not convinced of the medication’s effectiveness or be unsure that it is working
  • They may fear the side effects or have difficulty taking the medication (especially with injections or inhalers)
  • Increase in the number of medications; some seniors take 10 pills a day
  • Cost of medications

Types of medication non-adherence include:

  • Skipped doses
  • Discontinuing medication before the end of the prescribed dose
  • Decreasing dosage to save money or relieve side effects
  • Taking more than the prescribed dose to alleviate pain, or if addiction is present
  • Ignoring specific instructions and abusing the medication

The health impacts of medication non-adherence can be severe. Not controlling blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. Not taking insulin for diabetes can lead to coma and death, and the list goes on. The healthcare community has been working for decades to try to figure out how to unravel this problem. It is difficult because clinicians do not have a window into the senior’s home situation and environment. Efforts to improve compliance with doctor’s orders regarding medication are stymied by the fact that clinicians cannot provide supervision outside their offices.

There are things that you can do to improve medication adherence for an aging loved one

If you are a caregiver of an aging loved one, take the time to become familiar with his or her medications. Use a pill box with seven days and four boxes per day to sort and track the medications. Allot the pills by time, day and dose for the senior.

Other things that might help your loved one to comply with medication guidelines include:

  • Education: Help your loved one to understand what the medications are for. Describe to them in detail what they are designed to treat and what could happen if they don’t take the medications as prescribed. Then ask your senior to “teach it back” to you, describing the drug’s purpose, instructions and potential side effects.
  • Talk to the doctor: If your loved one has multiple specialists and multiple medications, is anyone coordinating them? Discuss all of the medications with your loved one’s primary care physician. Take the medications into the office and ask to review all of the side effects and contraindications directly with the physician. Discuss your loved one’s cognition levels and whether a simplification or consolidation of the medication regimen can be achieved.
  • Accommodate the senior’s needs: If your loved one can cognitively understand and comply with medication directions, are there other obstacles that can be addressed easily? Are the childproof caps on the medication bottles impossible to open? A pillbox can solve that issue. Is the print with dosage instructions too small to read? Provide a written instruction sheet in a legible font with the name, dose and instructions for each medication.
  • Home care: Studies have shown that direct patient contact successfully improved medication adherence. Certified home care professionals can check in on your loved one daily and ensure that medications are taken properly.
  • If your loved one needs assistance, contact us today for a free consultation. Our professionally trained caregivers will support your loved one and ensure that they are taking their medications properly, eating well and spending time with activities that they enjoy. It improves their quality of life and your peace of mind.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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