Elder care medication management

Elder Polypharmacy: How much is too much?

Change is inevitable as we age.  Not only can this change be visible, but it can also be invisible, most notably inside the body.  As our body changes, this can increase the need for medications to control blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, amongst others.  Taking multiple medications, coined “polypharmacy,” has the potential to lead to several issues.  The overall intent for prescribing medications should be to maintain good quality of life, improve longevity and minimize harm from drugs.

The number of medications associated with polypharmacy is variable, but generally it is considered to start at 5.  It is important to realize that not only can prescription drugs contribute to polypharmacy, but also over the counter drugs and supplements bought at your local pharmacy.  The simple reasons why one might be on multiple medications include:

  • Having more than one medical condition,
  • Having more than one physician or prescribing clinician, and
  • Using  medication(s) to treat the unrecognized adverse effects of another medication (often called a “prescribing cascade”)

What is essential to drug prescribing involves continuous review of an individual’s medication regimen (including over the counter medications and supplements) in light of his or her current clinical status, goals of care, and the potential risks/benefits of each medication.  This is the exact tactic we use at Element Care with an interdisciplinary team (IDT) comprised of a doctor, nurse practitioner, nurse and pharmacist that work together to evaluate an individual’s (participant’s) medication regimen.  This allows us to often identify issues before they start or catch them before they cause harm.  In turn, our participants live safely at home and can focus on living their life to the fullest.

Mary T. Durante, PharmD, R.Ph.
Clinical Pharmacist at Element Care