Medications: A Double-Edged Sword
Posted By Nannys For Grannys Senior Companion Care

“Any symptom in an elderly patient should be considered a drug side effect until proved otherwise.”
Brown University Long-term Care Quality Letter, 1995.

Modern medicines have contributed to longer life spans, improved health and better quality of life. Medications are the most common treatment for many diseases and conditions seen in older people and persons with disabilities. Medicines now not only treat and cure diseases that were untreatable just a few years ago, they aid in the early diagnosis of disease; prevent life-threatening illnesses; relieve pain and suffering; and allow people with terminal illnesses to live more comfortably during their last days.

However, for older adults and people with disabilities, medications—prescription, over-the-counter, social drugs such as alcohol, and herbal remedies/alternative medicines—can be a double-edged sword. When not used appropriately, effectively and safely, medications can have devastating consequences.

The changes that occur with aging and disability make people more likely to suffer medication-related problems (MRPs). Nevertheless, research has shown that medication-related problems are often preventable. Caregivers can play a key role in helping to identify when an actual or potential MRP is occurring. This assistance can help prevent the costly and unwanted negative consequences of medication use, such as admission to acute care hospitals, assisted living facilities or nursing homes. About one quarter of all nursing home admissions are due at least in part to the inability to take medication correctly.

Research has shown that a high percentage of caregivers help their friends or relatives manage medications. Caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory impairments commonly report problems with getting their relative or friend to take medications on time, in the right amount, and as directed. In surveys, caregivers often report that their knowledge of their loved one’s medications—intended uses, directions for use, side effects, possible interactions—is greater than that of the care recipients themselves.

When patients, caregivers, doctors and pharmacists function as a team, medication-related problems can be avoided, contributing to better outcomes and improved daily functioning. This Fact Sheet serves as
a caregiver’s guide to medication use and provides tips on what to do about the challenges of that use.

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