Empowering Caregivers to Manage Multiple Medications

Jay V. Patel, PharmD, MBA, is the Clinical Transformation Officer at Seniorlink

A recent study published by the Journal of American Medical Association found an alarming rate of polypharmacy practices among our nation’s senior population. Polypharmacy, or the use of multiple medications, saw an increase from 53% to 67% over a five-year period. In addition, the number of seniors taking cholesterol-lowering statins, blood-thinning medications, and omega-3 fish oil increased by 12%, 10%, and 14% respectively. Along with these increases, researchers found the risk of major drug interactions nearly doubled from 8% to 15%.

There could be a number of reasons why older adults are taking more medications. It could be a result of better access to medications via health insurance reform or increased awareness of clinical guidelines that highlight medications as primary treatment.  Or it could simply be that the elder population, which is rapidly growing in numbers, generally has a greater need for medication. Regardless, the healthcare community should be proactive about improving awareness of the risks associated with taking multiple medications for all populations, but specifically the elder population.

Polypharmacy awareness is important because sometimes physicians aren’t familiar with additional supplements patients may be taking, or there’s a disconnect between multiple prescribing physicians. Thankfully, caregivers can help manage these blind spots if coached and provided with the resources to do so.

While pharmacists play an important role as the first line of defense in managing appropriate medication use, caregivers serve as the second in command.  Caregivers can help protect their loved ones from risks of multiple medications if they are advised to identify signs and symptoms associated with side effects of new mediations and interactions. It’s important to guide all caregivers to understand how to compile and maintain an accurate list of their loved one’s medications, including dosage, frequency and how it is taken. More importantly, caregivers should be empowered to advocate for their loved one and ensure that each prescription is necessary, safe, and requires a manageable regimen.

Caregivers are the primary coordinator of their loved one’s health and care, often juggling appointments, prescriptions, managing regimens and routines, and being mindful of their loved one’s wellbeing. Caregivers need a trusted and easy to use resource that helps them to stay organized, while constantly providing education on the safety of prescriptions and the risks associated with drug interactions.

Later this year, Seniorlink will release a resource library that focuses on information that caregivers can utilize when they need support, educational and instructional material, such as the best way to manage multiple medications for a loved one.  We look forward to continuing to empower the caregiver nation through knowledge and support.