Do The Elderly Take Too Many Medications?


Do the elderly take too many medications? Knowing the short and long-term effects of health conditions can support the decision to take prescription drugs or be more proactive in addressing health concerns.

Many older adults complain about the number of medicines their physicians prescribe but don’t thoroughly understand the consequences of starting to take medications. The time when individuals are first diagnosed with a health condition is the perfect time to discuss the pros and cons of whether or not to take medications.

As a care manager, agent under a medical power of attorney, and a court-appointed guardian, I was responsible for the care of many clients. Upon being introduced to these clients, I discovered that many were already taking five to ten different medications each day for various chronic diseases.

In our conversations, some older adults said they didn’t like being a “pill popper.” When asked, many could not accurately describe the purpose of the medication. Others said that taking the medicines didn’t make them feel any better.

Refusing to take medications becomes an issue when the medicines prescribed are essential to maintaining physical and mental health. But few consumers or patients understand their role and choice in preventing or managing diseases that benefit from taking prescription drugs.

Do The Elderly Take Too Many Medications?

Taking a long list of medications can result from a lack of education about the effect of lifestyle choices. For example, this includes choosing not to exercise, eat healthily, manage weight, drink, smoke, and other factors.

Until young adults participate in health education, the likelihood of poor health habits leading to high expenditures for prescription drugs and healthcare is unlikely to change. Even then, having information but not transferring knowledge to action won’t reduce medical costs.

Two Sides of Medication Issues

Some adults are stubborn and refuse to take medications as a matter of choice. Other individuals choose a holistic approach to health diagnoses by seeing alternative medicine providers instead of traditional doctors.

Then some persons find it easier to take a pill than make an effort to understand the short- and long-term effects of the diagnosis that fuels the need for the drug. What many fail to realize is that being diagnosed with one chronic disease like high blood pressure eventually leads to the diagnosis of a second and third chronic disease.

So taking a medication without making associated lifestyle changes will likely lead to more health problems.

Medication Compliance Concerns

For persons taking medications, compliance—taking medications as prescribed and at appropriate times—is extremely important. Many emergency room admissions result from older adults not taking medications as prescribed.

So why don’t patients take medications:

  • Patients on Medicare and Medicaid find medication costs beyond their ability to pay. Individuals with limited incomes may have to choose between buying groceries and filling prescriptions.
  • Taking medications relieves symptoms related to not feeling well. So when patients begin to feel better, they think they don’t need to continue to take their prescriptions.
  • Consumers do not always understand the benefits of taking prescription drugs. Healthcare providers lack the time for thorough explanations if patients do not ask.
  • Additionally, older adults who take five or more medications may be experiencing adverse drug interactions and not be aware of the issue.
  • Primary care physicians often don’t have the time to educate patients diagnosed with one or more chronic diseases on how to manage health concerns appropriately. In addition, some physicians tire of patients who seek medical care but will not change lifestyle habits.

Memory Loss Diagnoses Complicates Taking Medications

creating a care plan for loved ones with memory lossFor adults with short-term memory loss remembering to take medications can be difficult if not impossible. Sometimes creating a calendar or check-off system can help elderly parents remain independent and take medications as scheduled.

Other times a family caregiver or a care manager can intervene to implement processes and systems to make sure medications are available and taken on schedule. For example, medication reminder containers and auditory reminder systems like talking clocks or tech devices can help all older adults remember to take their medications.

Pharmacists Provide Support With Medication Questions

If you’re curious about how a pharmacist can support a better understanding of prescribed medications, check out The Caring Generation Podcast Episode 21 featuring an interview with Dr. Neha Jain, a geriatric psychiatrist from the University of Connecticut Health System.

Medications Prescribed by Multiple Physicians Can Be Confusing

The question do the elderly take too many medications can be complicated by seeing a primary care physician plus physician specialists. Individuals may not realize the importance of transferring information between the doctors they see.

Each physician must know what the other physician is prescribing.  The easiest way to ensure a doctor knows what medications you are taking is to make a written list of medicines and over-the-counter products. Place the list in a purse or wallet.

When visiting the doctor, discuss the list with the office staff or allow them to make a copy. In some cases, frequent trips to the doctor’s office are necessary for medication monitoring. Especially if taking blood thinners or other medications like insulin that require frequent dosage changes.

Taking medications appropriately—if lifestyle interventions are ineffective—is one of the best ways to remain healthy and independent. Many older adults don’t want to take a high number of medications.

For this reason, being proactive in discussing the benefits of prescription drugs with a physician and a pharmacist may help reduce the number of medications necessary. Additionally, learning about the short and long-term effects of chronic disease can help individuals determine the level of effort they want to put forth to stop the illnesses from worsening.

Being healthy and learning to manage health concerns are actions that everyone can learn.

If You’re Looking for Support for Managing the Daily Care Needs of Elderly Loved Ones, Check out Pamela’s In-Depth Webinar Program

© 2022 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.

Check Out The Caring Generation Podcasts for More Answers to Questions Caregivers Ask

the Caring Generation Podcasts

Looking for a Roadmap to Care for Aging Parents? Check out Pamela’s Online Course

Can’t find what you are looking for? Search by Subject

Check out Videos on Pamela’s YouTube Channel


Pamela's YouTube Channel

Pin It on Pinterest