Polypharmacy is a growing concern among older adults, as it can lead to an increased risk of adverse drug reactions, hospital readmissions, and even mortality. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) is supporting research to ensure that seniors take only the medications they need to lead full and healthy lives. Wilmot researchers analyzed drug use in a national sample of 718 adults with an average age of 77 who had stage 3 or 4 cancer and other health problems. They were looking for potentially inappropriate medications that carry risks greater than benefits (known as PIMS), drug interactions (DDI), and drug-cancer treatment interactions (DCI).
The consequences of drug interactions include falls, functional impairment, and death. Patients who take multiple medications are also more likely to have anxiety or depression. Polypharmacy is more common among older adults, many of whom have multiple chronic conditions (MCC). Taking too much medication can lead to safety issues, as the more medications taken, the greater the risk of drug interactions.
Research has shown that patients who take five to nine medications have a 50% chance of experiencing an adverse drug interaction, which increases to 100% when they take 20 or more medications. Health Research Funding reports that polypharmacy represents nearly 30% of all hospital admissions and is the fifth leading cause of death in the U. S. UU.
Several factors contribute to the incidence of polypharmacy. Sometimes, using many medications is the right thing to do for patients to control their diseases and ensure a better quality of life. However, there are risks associated with polypharmacy. When a person uses more drugs, drug interactions occur more frequently.
These interactions can include increasing or decreasing the effectiveness of a drug. Changes in effectiveness are due to another adverse effect or to a more pronounced manifestation of an adverse event because the older person takes two drugs with a similar side effect profile. In addition, sometimes new drugs are introduced with the specific objective of compensating for an annoying effect caused by another. Risk factors that contribute to polypharmacy include the use of several doctors with different specialties who can prescribe similar medications, the use of several pharmacies, and the fact that the elderly often have multiple conditions that require treatment with medications.
In addition, inadequate medication balance when leaving the hospital is also a risk factor. It has been demonstrated that the prevalence of polypharmacy after hospital discharge is higher than at the time of admission. The NIA is supporting research to ensure that seniors take only the medications they need to lead full and healthy lives. This research will help identify potential risks associated with polypharmacy and provide guidance on how best to manage multiple medications in older adults.