Medication Management in Older People

John photographed at his home for the new 'Lets Talk Money' influencing campaign. Chadwell Heath, Dagenham.

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.

You can find information and advice to help you and your family on the Age UK website 

Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

2 thoughts on “Medication Management in Older People”

  1. i use a pill box that has 2 compartments. i need to take meds before breakfast, after breakfast and at bedtime.i do not put the bedtime pills in that box.i take them straight out of the packets kept in my bedside locker drawer when im ready to take them. this is part of my bedtime ritual.the pillbox has a digital read out and you can set an alarm to go off however many hours/minutes ahead you need it to go off. i find this a very easy method to remember. the 2nd compartment contains painkillers for the day. am allowed upto 8 in a day. 2 go in the side with my morning meds , the other 6 go in the empty side. once i have taken my morning meds i put the alarm on to go off in 4 hours time. if i dont need the painkillers straight away it goes to 00:00..i then know i havent taken my next lot.once i take a couple i reset the clock for another 4 hours.this way i avoid forgetting if ive taken them and if so when. so no overdosing.the only time i have forgotten to take my meds was when i was getting stressed out thanks to the antics of a neice of mine who started texting me when i was halfway through my breakfast.i now know i should have ignored those texts instead of retaliating. but i forgot to take my meds and it was almost 4pm before i realised they were still in the box.and took was my diabetic tablet,

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