Prescription medications play a vital role in maintaining the health and well-being of seniors. In the United States alone, pharmacies dispensed more than 6.7 billion prescriptions in 2022. Considering the widespread use and potency of these drugs, it is imperative that medications are taken correctly and as prescribed. Ensuring proper adherence to medication guidelines is of utmost importance.
Although seniors are the primary consumers of healthcare and medications, approximately 50 percent of older individuals do not adhere to medication instructions. Half of those who do not adhere do so intentionally while the other half are not aware they are taking their medications incorrectly or the regimen is too complex. This lack of adherence contributes to up to 25 percent of hospital admissions and approximately 125,000 deaths each year. Furthermore, it leads to avoidable healthcare costs amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
Forgetting to take prescribed pills or ingesting the wrong medications can be disastrous. An in-home care professional can help ensure your elderly loved ones take the right medication at the right time.
What are the consequences of incorrectly taking medicines?
Organ failure, a multitude of dangerous side effects and even fatality can result from seniors consuming the wrong medications. Unwanted effects that result from failing to comply with medication instructions include confusion, falls, hallucinations, and bleeding. Hospitalization is a likely outcome.
These adverse drug effects occur in any age group; however, seniors are more susceptible to the consequences of incorrectly ingesting medications. Pharmacodynamics (the effects of drugs), for instance, increases the risk of ill effects in seniors due to age-related changes.
The following are common consequences of medication non-adherence:
- Medication waste
- Progression of illness or condition
- Increased risk of pain, bleeding, and organ failure
- Reduced functional abilities
- Lower quality of life
- Increased hospital visits and admissions
How does medical error lead to seniors taking the wrong medications?
Improper medication adherence may result from any number of causes. Inadequate communication between doctors and their elderly patients can lead to seniors’ non-compliance with prescribed drugs. During seniors’ healthcare transitions, medical practitioners may fail to communicate with each other, leading to medication ineffectiveness or adverse drug effects.
Understaffed nursing home personnel are often responsible for incorrect medication administration, especially when tasked with properly administering multiple medications to several senior residents on a daily basis. Even though accuracy is demanded, unintentional errors are bound to occur.
Directly opposite to mistakes is the intentional misadministration of medications. A caregiver, for instance, may attempt to inappropriately sedate an elderly individual and go about the process using the wrong drugs. Alternately, some nursing home staff may steal medicines, leading to senior patients being given the wrong drugs.
What common factors influence adverse reactions with medications?
Over-the-counter medicines are often taken without harmful consequences. But when prescription medications are taken in conjunction with certain over-the-counter drugs, the combination can produce serious side effects. Physicians notify patients about what medicines to avoid while adhering to a prescription medication schedule.
Adverse prescription drug effects can intensify when combined with certain foods and vitamins. Seniors and their caregivers should be fully aware of what elderly individuals consume. If unanticipated side effects erupt, families and their elderly loved ones should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Dietary supplements and herbs, when taken with prescription medicines, can lead to harmful drug-drug interactions. Warfarin, for instance, when consumed along with ginkgo biloba, increases the chances of bleeding. Seniors should always notify their doctor about what vitamin supplements and herbal medicines they take.
Why do some seniors fail to adhere to medication schedules?
A senior living with dementia may fail to take prescription drugs on schedule due to impairments in memory. However, even seniors who are high functioning are at risk for improper medication adherence. The reasons for taking the wrong medications are as varied as they are numerous:
- Financial constraints: Financial constraints may prevent some seniors from being able to afford the medications they need. This may cause them to prioritize certain needed medications over others and ration their medications by taking smaller doses.
- Medication management: Taking multiple prescription drugs several times per day and on a daily basis can become a complicated process, leading to many seniors erroneously consuming incorrect medication dosages. Medications may also come with instructions that are too complex for seniors to understand and follow.
- Health literacy: Elderly individuals may fail to grasp the intent or benefit of a certain drug. Older people may not recognize adverse side effects or may not realize how to handle the negative effects of medications.
- Cognitive impairment and memory issues: Seniors affected by cognitive impairment and memory issues may have difficulty remembering to take their medications or understanding how to take them.
- Lack of symptoms: Seniors who are not currently experiencing symptoms may skip taking their medication. This is dangerous as conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol can progress into more serious conditions if seniors stop taking their medications.
- Mistrust in pharmaceuticals: Some seniors may not trust medical professionals or pharmaceuticals in general and refuse to take their medications.
- Fear: The fear of certain side effects or the risk of dependency on certain types of medications like opioids could make seniors hesitant to take their medications.
What methods prevent seniors from taking the wrong medications?
Physicians who prescribe medications for their senior patients can encourage proper medication compliance by assessing their patients’ abilities to follow a drug regimen. When prescribing medicines, the senior’s vision, cognition, and hand strength should be evaluated and any limitations accommodated.
Accommodating limitations can be easily achieved. Easy-access pill bottles are helpful for seniors with grip strength issues. Medication instructions printed in large type directly on the bottle and drug labels also prevent seniors from taking the wrong medications or incorrect dosages.
What tools help seniors remember to take medications?
Rapid developments in technology help remind seniors to take their daily medicines:
- A medication reminder alarm features messages recorded by the familiar voices of family members or caregivers to remind seniors to take pills: “Dad, it’s 7pm. Take one red pill and two yellow ones.”
- Automated pill dispensers manage up to ten medications and dispense pills based on a schedule. Alarms may be sent through text, phone calls, and an alarm.
- Basic medication reminder apps are free and show seniors photos of which pills to take. Caregivers are notified when prescriptions should be refilled.
How Home Caregivers Help with Medication Adherence
Sometimes, a human touch is necessary to help seniors stay on track with a medication schedule. Caregivers from Assisting Hands Home Care are instrumental in ensuring their senior care recipients take the correct medicines at the right times every day.
Our professional caregivers dedicate personal attention to each senior in our care. Given our caregivers’ focused attention, seniors consume the right medications on time, every day. If certain medications are to be consumed with food, our caregivers will cook a nutritious dish as part of our meal preparation services.
In addition to helping your loved one comply with a set medication schedule, caregivers at Assisting Hands Home Care provide invaluable, non-medical assistance with the activities of daily living. We offer pleasant companionship, discreetly help with bathing and toileting, and provide safe transportation.
Our in-home home care services are among the most preferred and top-rated in DuPage County, Illinois. If your loved one resides near Glen Ellyn, Warrenville, Naperville, Westmont, Woodridge, Lisle, or Wheaton, and needs daily help, Assisting Hands Home Care providers are available to offer reliable home care assistance. Call us at (630) 634-9316 for a free in-home assessment.