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New study examines adverse effects of overmedication

Nearly two-thirds of Canadians over 65 take five or more prescription drugs, and over 25% use 10 prescriptions or more, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). About 32% of Canadians from 75 to 84 and 40% of those 85 and over take 10 or more drugs.

While most of these drug prescriptions are intended to treat and manage the chronic health conditions that affect many older adults, there is a tendency to overmedicate and leave people on drugs too long, according to The Globe and Mail. A growing body of research shows that polypharmacy – the simultaneous use of multiple drugs by one patient – can lead to many adverse side effects and unexpected interactions, says Canada Safety Council. An additional problem with overmedicating is that seniors process medications more slowly and it often takes drugs longer to clear their systems, increasing the risk of adverse drug reactions.

The CIHI has found that nearly 40% of Canadian seniors use potential inappropriate medications. Medications are considered inappropriate when the potential for harm outweighs the potential for benefit, particularly when safer alternatives are available, says the Canadian Deprescribing Network.

Prune unnecessary pills

What can you and other family members do to reduce the possible harmful effects of polypharmacy on your health and quality of life?

First, be proactive. Ask your doctor and/or pharmacist to review your current list of medications to avoid duplication, dosing errors, potentially harmful interactions and unnecessary or inappropriate prescriptions, according to the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine and the Calgary Herald. Every time you receive a new prescription, ask if there are interactions with your current medications, says University of Calgary.

Adopt healthier habits to help reduce reliance on medications. Medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental health conditions can often be reduced or eliminated with a healthier diet and regular physical activity, says University of Calgary.

Take medications as prescribed

When taking multiple medications, it can also be more difficult to take pills properly. Average adherence falls to 50% for older patients taking medications four times a day from 80% in patients taking medication once daily, according to Pharmacy Times.

To help manage chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, you need to take your medication as prescribed, according to Canada Safety Council. A pill organizer is one of the best ways to help you take the right pills in the right amount at the right time, says CSC. Most pharmacies will set up a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly blister pack, which makes it easer and safer to manage your medications.