Adults 65 and older use more medicine daily than any other age group in the United States, accounting for 34 percent of all prescription medication, according to the National Council on Patient Information and Education. For the elderly, especially those who suffer chronic conditions that require multiple medicines, managing prescriptions alone can be extremely difficult.
Family members and caregivers can assist their loved ones by helping them keep track of their medications and make sure they're taken at the right time, and in the correct dosage. Between 40 and 75 percent of older people do not take their medications correctly, according to the council.
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Taking more pills than one needs, or taking more than five pills a day is referred to as polypharmacy. It is an "increasingly common and overlooked problem for many patients," Dr. Caleb Alexander of the University of Chicago's Department of Medicine said.
"Patients and caregivers and physicians alike need to be vigilant that each prescription medicine has a clear purpose, that benefits outweigh potential risks and costs, and that [the treatment] is viewed with the patient's goals of care and well-being in mind," he said.
James Wooten, a pharmacologist from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine and a proponent of patient education, said asking questions is one of the most important ways to manage treatment. "Information is power," he said, "and you're more likely to use something correctly if you know why you're using it."
Experts specializing in eldercare gave their best tips for the more than 65 million family caregivers in the United States to help their loved ones manage their medication:
The easiest way to keep track of your medication is to write down the name and dosage instructions for every drug you're taking, including over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements.
"About half of all people taking prescription medicine are also taking an over-the-counter therapy or dietary supplements simultaneously," Alexander said. "These add to the pill burden and can increase polypharmacy."
Making sure every prescribing physician is fully informed of all medications helps prevent potential fatal drug interactions. Adverse drug events cause more than 18 million emergency room visits each year and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older patients are twice as likely to visit the ER because of adverse drug events.
Put a copy of the medication list somewhere easily accessible; on the refrigerator or bulletin board in your wallet, and hand out copies to relatives, friends or a trusted neighbor. That way, a copy will always be available in case of an emergency. Update it regularly. You can make your own list, or use online applications and templates such as those from AARP.
Your physician and pharmacist "should be able to explain to you whatever you need to know," Wooten said. "Don't be afraid that you can't understand something."