The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines medication adherence as the process of correctly taking medications as prescribed by medical professionals. While it is important for any prescribed drug, medication adherence is especially critical for people taking medication for a chronic condition that requires ongoing care and treatment.
What Are the Risks of Medication Noncompliance?
Failure to adhere to medication regimens is a serious problem for both individual patients and for healthcare providers as a whole. Approximately ten percent of hospitalizations can be traced back to medication nonadherence, which translates to roughly $300 billion in avoidable healthcare costs. Failing to take medication appropriately can lead to a variety of adverse health outcomes, up to and including death.
While health experts have found that a medication adherence rate of 80 percent or higher is necessary to achieve optimal therapeutic results, they also estimate that adherence for chronic medications is only around 50 percent. This is especially relevant for older patients because they may be suffering from multiple conditions that require several medications. In fact, 25 percent of seniors between the ages of 65 and 69 (and 46 percent of seniors ages 70-79) take at least five prescription drugs.
Each added medication increases treatment complexity. Since each drug is prescribed to operate within a specific therapeutic range, it may produce an unintended effect if conditions change or if patients struggle with adherence. Furthermore, different medications can interact with one another and create a variety of side effects that can very easily be misdiagnosed as a new health condition rather than an adverse drug reaction (ADR). This can then lead to what’s known as a prescribing cascade, in which additional (and often unnecessary) medication is prescribed to treat drug side effects that overlap with common health problems in a patient population.
Medication Adherence Challenges for Seniors
There are several factors that can impact medication adherence among seniors. In some cases, people simply forget to take their medication regularly or are slow to refill their prescriptions. Other times, however, they may cease taking medications because they don’t see immediate benefits from them or they may take them incorrectly due to a misunderstanding of verbal instructions from a physician.
For seniors who are suffering from the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, it may not be possible for them to adhere to a medication schedule without assistance. The same could apply to aging adults experiencing a decline in motor functions. Even deteriorating vision can pose a problem, making it nearly impossible for them to read printed medication instructions.
Seniors also may not be able to refill their prescriptions promptly due to an inability to visit the pharmacy or concerns about the cost of drugs. This can create gaps in their regimen that could disrupt the therapeutic range of treatments and leave them vulnerable to prescribing cascade in the future if a physician believes they’re not responding to medication as expected.
More importantly, however, seniors may not think about how their existing medications interact with each other and come to view their prescription regimen as a permanent fixture of their lives rather than a treatment plan that could change over time. This is especially true if they see many different medical professionals, not all of whom are familiar with which medications were prescribed to them, when, and why. There is often a hesitance on the part of physicians to question existing treatments prescribed by their peers, but deprescription should be an essential part of any treatment plan, especially for aging adults who are on multiple medications. Seniors and their families need to monitor what medications they’re taking closely to provide medical professionals with the information necessary to make an accurate diagnosis and scale back on medications that are no longer needed.
Helpful Medication Adherence Tools
There are several strategies and tools families can use to help their aging loved ones manage their medications more effectively and ensure ongoing adherence.
According to Pew Research, about four-in-ten seniors own smartphones, and the trend has been increasing rapidly in recent years. There are a number of free apps available that work like “virtual pillboxes” that can be set up to deliver daily reminders for when different medications need to be taken or what prescriptions need to be refilled. Some apps offer premium versions that allow family members to sync their phones to receive the same reminders, allowing them to follow up on their aging loved ones to many sure they’re taking their medication.
While not the most innovative solution, pill cases have been used for many years to help patients make sure they’re keeping to a medication schedule. They not only make it easy to see what needs to be taken, but also allow seniors to access their medication more easily without having to grapple with multiple pill bottles. Pill cases are inexpensive and come in a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate various medication needs.
Pharmacy Delivery Services
When it comes to getting prescriptions refilled promptly, it’s hard to beat the convenience of a delivery service that delivers medication right to your aging loved one’s doorstep (or to their mailbox). Given the current risks posed to seniors by the COVID-19 pandemic, these delivery services also have the benefit of allowing them to stay safely at home without endangering their medication adherence.
Keeping a daily medication log that tracks what medication was taken and what effects it had on the patient is an incredibly valuable tool for helping physicians avoid prescribing cascade and determine when deprescription is necessary. If you or another person is providing direct caregiving for an aging loved one, more than one journal can be kept to give multiple perspectives on treatment.
Refine Your Medication Adherence Strategy with Homethrive
At Homethrive, we understand that it can be difficult to make sure your aging loved one is taking medication as directed by health professionals. That’s why our experienced Care Guides are always available to help you implement the most effective strategies for your unique situation. When it comes to caring for an aging loved one, you need a nuanced care plan that takes their specific needs into account and gives you both the support you deserve. From putting together a medical adherence regimen to selecting the best tools to make that plan effective, our Care Guides are with you every step of the way.
To learn more about how Homethrive can help you improve your aging loved one’s medication adherence, contact our team today!