What Is Polypharmacy?

November 3, 2018
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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According to an article in Newsweek, the use of prescription medications is on the rise. Over half of the population in the U.S., close to 60%, take at least one prescription drug, while almost 15% use five or more prescription drugs. For adults who are 65 and older, that number rises to 40%.

That means almost half of all elders are taking 5 or more prescription medications.

Commonly taken drugs include:

  • Medications to lower blood pressure
  • Statins to lower cholesterol
  • Drugs to control diabetes and manage heart disease
  • Antidepressants
  • Blood thinners to prevent blood clots
  • Opioids for pain control

What Is Polypharmacy?

Polypharmacy is defined as taking multiple medications at the same time, usually five or more, though the exact number varies with the source.

The more medications one takes, the greater the potential for drug interactions that can cause serious side effects.

Lifestyle Changes

As you’ve probably noticed, you can manage many of these conditions through lifestyle changes.

Diet, exercise, and stress reduction can limit the number of these conditions or at least help control them.

In our age of immediate gratification, it seems it has become easier to take a pill than submit ourselves to the effort required to change.

But this choice comes at a high price. According to CNN, approximately “one out of every 250 Americans visited the emergency room because of a drug reaction each year in 2013 and 2014.” For those over the age of 65, about 35% of ER visits were due to drug reactions.

Balancing the Risks and Benefits

Increasing one’s quality of life as well as extending it are the basic goals of medications.

It’s important to have a pharmacist take a look at your elder parent’s medication list to ensure this goal is being met and not affecting them adversely. This list should also include supplements and over-the-counter drugs your parent is taking.

Side effects of medications may include a disruption in the sleep cycle, dizziness and loss of balance, fatigue, as well as dementia.

A pharmacist may be able to make recommendations, such as different drugs that perform the same function or a way to reduce the number of medications a person takes. While only their physician will be able to make the changes, many appreciate a pharmacist’s bird’s eye view. For this reason, it is best to use just one pharmacist and to check with them when their doctor prescribes any new medication.

Check with them before adding additional supplements to the diet as well. Several herbs can interact with medications. An example of this is Calcium supplements which can interact with thyroid medications.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care Services

If your elder parent requires assistance with the everyday activities of life, consider obtaining the services of an elder care provider.

Not only can they do light housekeeping, help with daily hygiene and run errands such as grocery shopping, but they can also remind your parent when it’s time to take their medications.

And if your parent has decided to make some necessary lifestyle changes, they can help them achieve their goals by preparing healthy meals, accompanying them on daily walks, and providing transportation to the local senior center for one of their many exercise classes. Companionship can sometimes make change a little easier.

If you or an aging loved one are considering home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.