June 6, 2016

Polypharmacy, the Unbelievable Pile of Pills!

With the baby boom generation now on social security, polypharmacy is becoming rampant. Those of us with diabetes already have problems with polypharmacy. Moreover, I am not limiting this to prescription drugs. Herbal medications and over-the-counter drugs also count. Yet, many people ignore herbal drugs, vitamins, and minerals because they are supposedly natural.

Geriatricians and researchers have warned for years about the potential hazards of polypharmacy, usually defined as taking five or more drugs concurrently. Yet, it continues to rise in all age groups, reaching disturbingly high levels among older adults.

Doctors spend an awful lot of money and effort trying to figure out when to start medications, and shockingly little on when to stop. Most keep adding medications and never stop.

The average senior is now taking more medicines than ever before. Many are for complex conditions or diseases, and others are for what they think will help them remain healthier.

Tracking prescription drug use from 1999 to 2012 through a large national survey, Harvard researchers reported in November that 39 percent of those over age 65 now use five or more medications — a 70 percent increase in polypharmacy over 12 years.

Many factors probably contributed, including the introduction of Medicare Part D drug coverage in 2006 and treatment guidelines that (controversially) call for greater use of statins.

Nevertheless, older people don’t take just prescription drugs. An article published in JAMA Internal Medicine, using a longitudinal national survey of people 62 to 85, may have revealed the fuller picture.

More than a third were taking at least five prescription medications, and almost two-thirds were using dietary supplements, including herbs and vitamins. Nearly 40 percent took over-the-counter drugs.

Not all are imperiled by polypharmacy, of course. But, some of those products, even those that sound natural and are available at health food stores, interact with others and can cause dangerous side effects.

How often does that happen? The researchers, analyzing the drugs and supplements taken, calculated that more than 8 percent of older adults in 2005 and 2006 were at risk for a major drug interaction. Five years later, the proportion exceeded 15 percent.

All of this points out how dangerously the older generations are living and possibly causing their own death because they have concealed information from doctors or use too many doctors to hide what they are taking. Many also use several pharmacies.

While I am a senior, I would urge all my readers to read the full article about polypharmacy and if you have a parent still alive, you need to check out the drugs in their possession. If necessary make a list of the drugs being used and the frequency being used, the pharmacy used and then talking to at least one pharmacist using this list. Take action if anything is found that could be dangerous for the elderly parent.

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