Does my aging parent need that medication?

December 6th, 2018

By: Sharon Roth Maguire, MS, RN, GNP-BC Chief Clinical Quality Officer, BrightStar Care

Polypharmacy refers to taking multiple medications often prescribed by multiple providers for various health conditions. While some conditions require more than one drug, the number of pills a senior takes daily can add up quickly and put the senior at great risk.
 
In fact, we often see patients who take so many medications that they lose track of what each is for. Many risk factors arise when polypharmacy gets that extreme:

  • There may not be good communication among providers, resulting in duplicate medications that could do more harm than good.
  • Drug interactions can result in health risks, such as falling or confusion
  • Their medication list might not be up-to-date, so if the doctor or pharmacist does not check, a prescription might be missed.
  • The risks of forgetting or doubling up on pills increases because the senior is overwhelmed by their prescription load.

Caregivers and BrightStar Care nurses can help seniors avoid some of these potential risks by asking these three questions every time a doctor prescribes a new drug.

1. What condition does this medication treat?

Ask this question every time your loved one’s primary care doctor or specialist recommends a new medication. For example, if your loved one takes a diabetes medication, and your doctor prescribes a second, ask how the new drug complements the first. Doing so can highlight duplicate prescriptions and those that may be missing from your loved one’s personal medication list.
 
The medication list should include all over-the-counter drugs, alternative remedies, and prescription medications your loved one uses. Along with medications prescribed by the doctor, make sure the following are added to their list:

  • Essential oils
  • Eye drops
  • Gums, lozenges, or patches
  • Lotions and salves
  • Muscle pain ointments
  • Nasal sprays
  • Nutraceuticals
  • Vitamins and supplements 

Some families are hesitant to include alternative therapies in their medication lists. But the more your healthcare provider knows, the better advice they can give you. BrightStar Care nurses will not judge how a client chooses to manage their symptoms or condition. Rather, we want to help optimize our clients’ health and healthcare budgets. Some alternative therapies have no scientific basis. We’ve seen clients choose to spend their limited funds on these ineffective therapies instead of filling prescriptions that are known to work. The more information you share with your doctor and nurse, the better suggestions we can provide as to what might work– or what can be eliminated.
 
Related reading: The Importance of Medication Management for Seniors

2. Can any current medications be reduced or combined?

Ideally, your loved one’s primary care doctor will check their medication list at least every six months, as well as at every wellness check and every time a new drug is added. However, sometimes doctors run short on time with patients or simply forget to check. If your loved one’s doctor doesn’t offer to review their medication list, it’s important that you speak up to ask if any medications could be reduced or eliminated.
 
The same goes for filling prescriptions at the pharmacy. With the health database technologies available today, we have plenty of cross-checks for drug interactions. However, mistakes can happen, especially if patients see multiple doctors or use more than one pharmacy. Keeping a personal medication list can provide a source of truth for current traditional and nontraditional therapies.

3. What side effects should we watch for?

Side effects such as dizziness, mood changes, cognitive changes, bleeding, trouble sleeping, and appetite changes can indicate medication interaction issues, but also can signify serious health concerns, such as heart or brain conditions. Any of these symptoms warrants a call to the senior’s nurse or doctor. And be sure to relay to the provider when the symptoms started to narrow down the cause and avoid further, perhaps needless, prescribing. We’ve seen providers recommend additional drugs to alleviate side effects of a previously prescribed medication that was no longer needed. So, instead of eliminating the unnecessary drug, the patient winds up taking two.
 
Polypharmacy can get out of control quickly, especially for seniors with multiple health conditions. BrightStar Care registered nurses can help ensure that doesn’t happen to your aging loved one. In fact, a top reason many new clients choose us is our ability to provide streamlined medication management* under the care of registered nurses.
 
If you would like assistance with medication management for an aging loved one, talk to your BrightStar Care nurse about your options at home. Call 866-618-7827 or contact a BrightStar Care® home care agency near you to learn more.
 
*Medication management services vary by location.