Medication is intended to improve the quality of a patient’s life by reducing uncomfortable symptoms or by curing a disease. However, taking more medication does not equal to receiving more benefits. In fact, the consequences of using too many medications at once, or polypharmacy, can be extremely harmful and counterproductive. An article published by Hovstadius and Petersson looks at the different factors that lead to excessive polypharmacy and discusses the alarming finding that polypharmacy is most lethal and occurs most commonly in adults aged over 65 in nursing homes.
The article says that one of the most common risk factors for excessive polypharmacy is age. As the prevalence of disease increases with age, the amount of medication prescribed also increases. The prevalence of polypharmacy has also been increasing as new medications and technology are being discovered. In the entire national population, the prevalence of polypharmacy in the age group 80 to 89 years is 75.1%, and the percentage continues to rise as age increases. Elderly adults also often forget to take certain medications as they already have so many types of medications to keep track of, which is another reason why polypharmacy can be so dangerous.
Another factor associated with polypharmacy other than age is poor self-perceived health, poor life satisfaction, declining ability to function and declining cognitive capacity. Many nursing home residents who suffer from dementia also suffer from depression. This depression can usually be treated by non-pharmacological methods, such as daily social activities, simple exercises, and independence tasks. Unfortunately, many nursing homes do very little to ensure that their residents have a good quality of and good outlook on life as many nursing homes do not have these options of activities available for their residents. Rather than treating patients with non-pharmacological methods, nursing homes often use drug treatments or chemical restraints,which in turn leads to a higher likelihood of polypharmacy occurring.
Perhaps the most common consequence of polypharmacy is harmful drug-drug interactions. The effect of one medication can be influenced by another medication, and result in a harmful side effect. The risk for drug-drug interactions increase greatly as a patient is taking more medications. For example, a patient on 10 different drugs has 45 possible one-to-one drug interactions. Even more harmful is a disease-drug interaction, which occurs when a disease is worsened by a drug prescribed for a reason other than to treat the disease. This is highly common in nursing homes because many nursing home residents have diseases such as Alzheimer’s, but are also given unrelated medications such as nutritional supplements or urinary tract infection antibiotics.
Due to the severe consequences of polypharmacy, it is important to be aware of the risk factors that lead to polypharmacy and ensure that you or your loved one are not being prescribed unnecessary medications. Unfortunately, as many nursing homes are understaffed, instead of providing the proper care and treatment, unnecessary drugs such as chemical restraints are often improperly used.
Here at the law offices of Ben Yeroushalmi, we understand that the health and well-being of your loved one should be the first priority. If your loved one has suffered due to nursing home neglect, please contact us today to see how we can help.