Taking various prescription medications for coexisting medical issues, also known as polypharmacy, is becoming extremely common in the United States. Because it is more common among those with multiple diseases or illnesses, polypharmacy is especially prevalent in older adults. Polypharmacy commonly happens when patients are treated by different healthcare providers, who may not be aware that their patients have already been prescribed conflicting medications.
Polypharmacy can happen when clinicians and patients have differing opinions on diagnoses or treatments. Patients who use over-the-counter drugs to treat the side effects of medications also run the risk of being affected. Memory loss diseases like Alzheimer’s can also contribute to polypharmacy, as patients often are not aware of whether they are taking the correct dosages.
Polypharmacy is associated with adverse drug reactions (ADRs), or injuries caused by taking medications. It is also associated with drug-drug interactions, which occur when one medication is affected by another medication. These consequences of polypharmacy can be extremely dangerous, and the chances of ADRs and drug-drug interactions increase with the number of medications.
It can be difficult to know what to do if yourself or those you love are at risk for polypharmacy. Doctors and other medical professionals can lower the chance of injury by thoroughly keeping track of all medications taken by elderly patients. Similarly, family members and friends should pay close attention to when, how often, and why their elderly loved ones are taking medications. If you are able to, it is also a good idea to accompany them to their doctors’ appointments.
Polypharmacy can be a scary subject, but if you know the risks and causes associated, it is possible to help your loved ones stay safe. To learn more about how polypharmacy affects elderly patients, take a look at this infographic below courtesy of CEUfast.