Many American seniors are taking too many unnecessary prescription medications (a.k.a. polypharmacy), and suffering from harmful side effects and on occasion, death. Many seniors are taking on average 20 drugs, and this epidemic of polypharmacy has attracted little attention. A recent article in the Washington Post describes polypharmacy amongst the elderly as "...America's other prescription drug epidemic." How can you assess whether you, a parent or a loved-one is taking unneeded medication?
Many patients see multiple doctors and medication management can often be confusing. Most of my home care physical therapy patients have a long list of prescription medications they take daily. Physical therapists are familiar with medication side effects, and are often an important line of defense in screening patients who may be taking unnecessary medications. This is why I begin every home physical therapy session with a review of medications. Furthermore, patients should always have a list of all medications they take, and make it a point to always discuss medication management at every doctor's visit. Finally, patients should ask their doctors if their medications are deemed appropriate for their health status and according to the Beers Criteria, a list of potentially unsafe drugs for seniors which including antipsychotics and antidepressants. Some doctors are beginning to deprescribe medicine and the Beers Criteria and new tools assist them in making these decisions.
If you have a senior parent, neighbor or loved-one taking multiple medications and experiencing negative side-effects, I recommend they consult with a geriatric physician who is well-versed in medication management for the elderly. Physical therapy is always more effective when a patient is being well-managed medically by their health care team.