Older adults are highly medicated in this country. Research has shown that 25% of Americans between the ages of 65 and 69 take at least five prescription medications to treat chronic health problems, and that number nearly doubles to 46% for adults between the ages of 70 and 79. Polypharmacy, which is defined as the simultaneous use of multiple drugs by one patient, comes with challenges aside from side effects listed on the pill bottles—managing multiple medications can be confusing and even dangerous at times.
Here are some ways to better manage taking multiple medications in a safe and responsible manner:
Understand How Your Drugs Interact With Each Other
Joanne Doyle Petrongolo, a pharmacist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, was featured in an article published in the Harvard Health Letter on the dangers of polypharmacy. Doyle Petrongolo told the publication that “as the number of medications increases, the potential for drug interactions goes up, and there’s an increased potential for side effects that can lead to emergency room visits and hospitalizations.”
Often times, different doctors are prescribing different medications, and if you don’t disclose all of your current prescriptions to all of them, they won’t know the ways in which the meds they’re prescribing can interact with others that you take. Another downside of taking multiple medications according to Doyle Petrongolo is that it can be hard to trace side effects to specific medications. Side effects of common medications include fatigue, dizziness and insomnia, but it can be difficult to determine which drug is causing those symptoms when you take a variety of medications.
Fill Your Prescriptions at One Pharmacy
Jessica Merrey, PharmD, a clinical pharmacy specialist at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, recommends that you fill all of your prescriptions at the same pharmacy to not only make it easier, but also to ensure that you are getting good advice. “Using one pharmacy keeps your medication records in one place, so the pharmacist can evaluate your risk and work with your doctor to avoid potential problems,” Merrey told The Johns Hopkins Health Online Publication.
Developing a relationship with your pharmacist can help you limit your risk for side effects and negative drug interactions. Additionally, if you are struggling with the cost of your prescription drugs, Merrey suggests talking to your pharmacist about other options that may be available to you, including prescription drug assistance programs.
Use a Pill Dispenser or Reminder System
Experts all recommend that organization is key when it comes to polypharmacy. Dr. Caleb Alexander of the University of Chicago’s Department of Medicine was interviewed by ABC News about the best ways to manage multiple medications, and touted the benefits of using a pillbox. “They can dramatically simplify the process of taking prescription medication,” Alexander told the news outlet. But, “they have to be filled correctly, and they take the organization and discipline to use them.”
A medication reminder flyer created by the team at Mercy Hospital in Kansas City suggests setting an alarm on your cellphone or watch as a reminder to take medication, keeping the pillbox in a visible area (such as the bathroom or kitchen), and recording each dose in a medication journal to help you avoid missing doses. The flyer also lists a variety of medication reminder apps, both free and subscription-based, that are available to help you better manage multiple medications.
Hire Professional Help
Professionally trained in-home caregivers can remind you when to take your medication, help you pick up refills, and even monitor for any changes and report them to your medical care team.