Those facing hospice in San Mateo and elsewhere are likely taking a lot of medications for relief of their symptoms, whether those arise from cancer, dementia, heart disease, or something else. Confusion about dosage, timing, and side effects can all lead to complications — some life-threatening. October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month (NMAAM), and as such, this week’s topic will be all about how drug therapy can be confusing for older adults.

First off, drug therapy involves the use of any substance (not food) to prevent, diagnose, relieve or treat symptoms of a disease or condition.

According to the National Library of Medicine, the incidence of diseases and conditions that require drug treatment increases rapidly with advancing age, whereby elderly patients receive more medications on a more frequent basis, usually bringing a higher risk of adverse drug reactions or interactions. On top of that, the cognitive decline that comes with aging can worsen the problem, with individuals becoming increasingly confused or forgetful about their prescription medications.

The process of aging influences many physiological responses to any number of drugs, such as how long it takes for the drug to absorb in the body, the rate of distribution, the person’s metabolism, elimination in the body, and organ sensitivity. Anyone taking care of the elderly, especially those in hospice or facing hospice, should keep these age-related effects in mind. This is why it’s so important to have a comprehensive care team that is comprised of many healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses, and pharmacists who all work together.

Medication Management in Older Adults

Our bodies change as we age. That’s a fact. We can feel or see some of those changes — those aches and pains that tend to linger day after day, or those seemingly simple movements, such as walking, going upstairs, or getting out of a chair, that start to get more difficult, painful, or slow. Other changes, we just can’t feel, but they are no less real. This includes how our bodies start changing in response to medicines, including how we absorb them, says BeMedWise. Changes in the digestive system may impact how fast medications get into the bloodstream.

Even simple changes in body weight can have a chain reaction. Weight loss can affect how much medicine you can tolerate and how long it remains in the body. When your circulation system slows down, this impacts the rate at which drugs can reach the liver and kidneys, two organs that may also start working more slowly. This can then impact how a certain drug breaks down and gets removed from your body. As such, medicines can stay in the body for longer periods of time, which can lead to serious side effects. This is why doses should be regularly monitored and adjusted as needed.

10 Facts to Know

Check out these facts you should know about older adults and medication management:

  1. Seniors use more medicines than any other age group in this country (prescription, OTC, and supplements).
  2. Older adults tend to have many medicines, which increases the risk of interactions and side effects.
  3. The liver and kidneys don’t work as well in the aging population, which impacts how medication works, how it’s absorbed, and how it breaks down.
  4. Medicines remain in the body longer, leading to serious side effects if not monitored and adjusted.
  5. Age-related changes such as decreased body fluid, weight loss, and more fatty tissue can change how drugs are distributed and concentrated.
  6. Seniors have an increased sensitivity to medicines in general.
  7. Impaired memory, vision, and hearing can lead to misunderstandings and proper recall of instructions. Those who suffer from loss of grip strength and mobility may also find it more difficult to take medication as it has been prescribed.
  8. Older adults get prescriptions from multiple healthcare professionals, so it can be hard to track medicines, understand drug interactions, and identify ineffective medications.
  9. Chronic conditions like high blood pressure, arthritis, and diabetes are more common in older adults, often bringing with them very complex medication regimens.
  10. Older adults often engage in non-adherence, which is the fancy term for failing to follow medication instructions. This can be due to any number of factors, such as forgetfulness, side effects, concerns about cost, and a perception that a particular medicine is not working for them.

The risks or challenges outlined above can be prevented when family members and patients are informed about the safe and appropriate use of drug therapy.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Our care team here at Pathways is in charge of all medication dispensing for hospice patients to ensure no mistakes are made and no side effects occur. This kind of attention to detail is why many family members trust us to oversee their loved ones’ medications throughout the hospice process. To learn more, call us today at 888-978-1306.