Healthwise: Helping seniors understand their prescriptions

HEALTHWISE: Dr. Rebecca Sleeper, PharmD.

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - It’s estimated there could be as many as 55 million Americans older than 65 by 2020.

That’s next year.

We know that age group is more likely to take multiple medications. But they are learning at the Texas Tech School of Pharmacy that as much as 12 percent of dementia could be blamed on too many prescriptions, some that may not even be needed anymore.

That’s why Dr. Rebecca Sleeper, PharmD, says it’s so important to understand more than just the name of the drug you are taking. She explains, “Knowing what medications you’re taking, and not just the basic regimen details like the name of the drug and the dose of the drug, but also the purpose for which that medication has been prescribed and the outcomes you’ve achieved with that medication. Is it working? You don’t want to continue to expose yourself to the potential side effects or cost of a medication that’s not achieving the outcome for which it was intended.”

Dr. Sleeper says your family provider can help you sort out what drugs you should or should not be taking. But she says you can also go to your local pharmacist for that, especially in understanding if some of what you are taking could be the reason for side effects. She says even a drug you may have taken in younger years with no problem, could trigger all sorts of problems, including dementia, later in life. The reason? As the body ages and changes, so does the way it handles medication. She explains, “You might react very differently to the same dose. You may have increased sensitivity. You may have decreased sensitivity.” Dr. Sleeper tells her students we can’t treat adults by looking through the same lens.

She is also concerned about a phenomenon called Poly Venuism. She says, “What it means is an individual is getting care from more than one provider or more than one venue of care, sometimes intentionally because they’re going to multiple doctors. Sometimes it’s unintentionally. They may be transferred from a hospital to a long term care facility, to a home health agency and at every step, they have a different set of providers.” All the care and well intended prescriptions along the way, can add up to an overprescribed, ailing patient.

She says you can watch for the clues that someone is over medicated, "Some of the most common symptoms affect gait and balance, our cognitive function, our level of alertness, sedation or our cardiovascular system. They can be dizzy. They can make us fall. and those are the things we really need to watch out for.”

The bottom line, be informed about what drugs you are taking and why. If you’re not certain, she says your pharmacist is required by law to offer counsel, when asked. That means your corner drugstore could be the first stop in clearing the confusion in your medicine cabinet and getting you more focused on staying healthy.

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