This week we have a guest post from Dr Ian Maidment from Aston University about managing medication in later life.
Older people frequently take many different medicines prescribed both by hospital doctors and their GP. Whilst the medicines may effectively manage various chronic illnesses, many older people struggle with complex medication regimens containing many different medications.
Sylvia Bailey, an Age UK volunteer from Walsall, said: “In my experience supporting Age UK, medication management is a real issue for older people taking lots of medicines.” One carer commented to Sylvia: “My father now has to take additional medication to overcome the severe constipation caused by the latest pills he has been prescribed…it is a vicious circle that appears never to end…”
Taking many medicines also increases the risk of side-effects and medication errors, and makes it more difficult for an older person to remember to take their medicines accurately. Indeed, research suggests that the side-effects of medication cause 5,700 deaths and cost the United Kingdom £750 million every year; as the main users of medication this burden mostly falls on older people.
Impact of dementia
As dementia develops, an older person may struggle with remembering to take their medication properly and increasingly rely on support from family carers. This is often their partner, who may also be taking many medicines for their own health conditions. Recent research has found that carers may struggle with the responsibility of this role finding it stressful and a burden, which could increase the risk of side-effects.
This issue is a real concern given the growing number of people with dementia. Furthermore, family carers may struggle with little support and the burden on them is often hidden from people who could help such as doctors and nurses. Sylvia Bailey added: “Carers may get anxious and feel under pressure if they are uncertain or lack confidence about managing the medication.”
What can be done?
Older people clearly need access to appropriate services to support them with medication management. Such support should aim to decrease the risk of side-effects and ease the burden on any family carer.
If you are having any difficulties including remembering to take the medication or experiencing side-effects discuss this with your GP. Your local community pharmacist or district nurse may also be able to help. “Small things, such as someone to contact, can make a big difference. Community pharmacists can identify older people taking many medicines and provide the required support to the person and their carers,” Sylvia added.
In the longer term we need more research on this issue. This research should include the views and experiences of older people and their carers.
This research aims to understand, by speaking to older people, what they need to help them manage their medication. Once we know what is likely to help we can design services around this.