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Polypharmacy and multiple medications for seniors

In this month's column, Karen McElroy, of Age Friendly Guelph, talks about seniors and multiple medications

One of the main goals in pharma care is that elderly patients are not harmed by the drugs meant to heal them. If this is the case, then why are half of the hospital visits by older adults associated with drug-related complications?

Polypharmacy is defined as ‘the simultaneous use of multiple drugs by a single patient, for one or more conditions’. As Guelph’s aging population increases, polypharmacy effectiveness is a serious issue that needs to be considered for ourselves, our loved ones and for our community.

There’s a tendency in medicine that every time a new medicine is prescribed, there is never any indication of when to stop it. Have you or your family member (ever) had your medications reviewed?

At age 84, my mother had issues with the side effects (dehydration, couldn’t swallow food) from a medication for a painful leg injury. Within 4 months, her leg healed and we all thought she was well on her way back to good health. However, extreme weight loss and dehydration became life threatening. An emergency room intervention helped, with referral to a Specialist Doctor that would review all of mom’s medications.

Within minutes of this appointment, the prescription issue was discovered and removed. The Doctor also revised the dosages on 2 other medications. Within 36 hours mom was back to feeling great again.

A University of BC Medical Association study published in 2016 estimates that Canada spent about $419 million on drugs prescribed to seniors that aren’t appropriate for them. When factoring in hospital visits and other issues related to inappropriate drugs, the study says the cost to Canada's healthcare system is closer to $2 billion.*

Do the multiple drugs taken decrease the quality of your life? If yes, please seek review of the situation with your personal Doctor, sooner rather than later.

Be especially aware of any medications that could exacerbate underlying conditions or could be associated with the risk of falls. We have all heard sad stories about someone elderly falling - and never fully recovering.

Please put reviewing your or your loved one’s multiple-medications on the list of top priorities for this upcoming year.

* Article from Steve Morgan, a professor at UBC's school of population and public health and lead author of the study re CTV Article

Karen McElroy, Age Friendly Guelph Leadership Team member, CEO Boardroom Metrics Inc.

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