Polypharmacy is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “the practice of administering many different medicines especially concurrently for the treatment of a single disease” and “the concurrent use of multiple medications by a patient to treat usually coexisting conditions and which may result in adverse drug interactions.”
Pharmacists encounter polypharmacy daily, with elderly patients taking 10, 12 or even 20 medications. These elderly patients are often unsure of the reasons for medications and overwhelmed by the dosing regimens, which often lead them to take medications haphazardly or not at all.
In turn, polypharmacy results in poor clinical outcomes and even additional medication therapy. Moreover, excessive use of medications increases the risk of side effects which are then misrecognized and treated with yet more medications.
It is estimated that 40% of people over the age of 65 use over 5 medications and engage in polypharmacy.
Polypharmacy doesn’t just frustrate patients. Providers frequently inherit an elderly patient with little medication history and constantly struggle to keep up with changes made during multiple hospital admissions or specialist visits. They are often pressured to follow clinical guidelines which can add additional medication therapies. When challenged with whether or not to stop a medication, providers worry about the risk of adverse events or whether or not it is wise to “rock the boat.”
What can seniors do to prevent this prescribing cascade? Patients and families can ask their physicians to review their list of medications and supplements and discuss whether to continue or change their regimens.
It is imperative that providers have a clear picture of all medications, supplements and treatments to prevent dangerous interactions.
Pharmacists, often underused as information sources, can help coordinate medications, and some patients qualify for medication reviews through Medicare. Good communication between elderly patients and their provider is the key to managing polypharmacy and keeping the elderly safe.
Keywords: Polypharmacy, medication compliance, prescriptions, interactions, pharmacy
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is intended solely for the general information for the reader and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnose health problems or suggest any treatment. It is not a substitute for medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional and does not create a physician-patient or pharmacist-patient relationship. Please consult your health care provider for any personal medical advice.