As they get older, some seniors find it gets more difficult to keep track of their medications. However, despite this, not many studies have examined the characteristics of patients likely to experience such problems, nor how widespread it might be. Now, a new study seeks to address this gap in the research.

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The researchers note that health conditions may worsen or not improve if older adults skip or do not take their medications properly.

There are so many things to remember and get right when managing medication. These range from ensuring the correct drug is taken at the right dose at the right time, to making sure medication is stored properly, has not expired, and that prescriptions are refilled.

In the new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers from Duke University in Durham, NC, analyze data from the 10-year Duke Established Populations for Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly (EPESE).

First author Brenda D. Jamerson, adjunct assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, says:

“Health conditions may worsen or not improve if older adults skip or don’t take their medications properly. Serious side effects may also occur from taking medications at the wrong time or in the wrong dose.”

The data she and her colleagues analyzed covered 4,106 black and white older residents of five counties in North Carolina and included responses to the question: “Are you able to take your medicine without help (in the right doses at the right time)?”

Responses to this question and other information were sought by researchers in participants’ homes using structured questionnaires. They also collected information on sociodemographic characteristics, health conditions, cognitive status, and ability to do daily tasks.

Information on health conditions included: ever having been diagnosed with stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), heart attack, or cancer (but not skin cancer). It also included having poor hearing or poor vision.

The researchers also reviewed the participants’ medications – they looked at their medicine containers and noted how many prescription and over-the-counter medications they took.

At the start of the study, the researchers found 7.1 percent of participants needed help to manage their medications. Three years later, another 11 percent joined this category – they had not needed help at the start.

When they analyzed the characteristics of the two groups, the researchers found predictors of a new need for help with managing medication were similar to those seen at the start of the study. The predictors were:

  • Being 75 years old or older
  • Being male
  • Experiencing memory problems
  • Experiencing problems with daily living tasks.

The team notes that participants aged 80 and over were 1.5-3 times more likely to need help with managing medication as those in the 65-69 age group.

Also, men were 1.5-2 times more likely to need help as women, and those experiencing memory problems were 3-5 times more likely than those without.

The researchers suggest this brief scale of predictors may help clinicians identify which patients may need help with medication management.

Some older adults can put themselves at risk for experiencing problems if they don’t receive the assistance they may need.”

Prof. Brenda D. Jamerson

The National Institute on Aging offer tips for seniors on managing medicines.

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