Q: I was surprised to see how many prescriptions my father is currently taking. Is it normal for elderly to be prescribed so many different medications?
A: I can understand your surprise. While I wouldn’t say it is “normal,” I will say it is very common for elderly to be prescribed a long and confusing list of medications. While some seem to manage just fine with this, many are being unintentionally overmedicated. Over medication is a very common problem, especially among the elderly. For one, it is customary for elderly to see a different doctor for various issues. Any one person can easily be visiting with two or three different specialists. This doesn’t include hospital stay doctors or the general practitioner. Most doctors take care to review medical history and interview their patients, but over time, as more and more different doctors are frequented, details are not clearly dictated and slip through the cracks.
This is why it is so important for there to be another person involved when meeting with doctors. Even though your father may be very capable of getting himself to and from the appointments, having an extra set of ears and eyes is monumental in preventing over medication — if not now, then down the road. Often times it has to do with the information shared at the appointment. Maybe dad hasn’t noticed certain side effects, or maybe he doesn’t like to “complain.” Maybe the dosage needs adjusting, or his supplements are interfering. Sometimes there are old medications in the mix. Maybe the prescription is outdated and is not being considered when his doctor is evaluating him.
In addition to accompanying your father to his appointments, or if that is not an option at this time, one very crucial thing you can do is keep an accurate log of his medications and supplements. You can start now by contacting each of the doctors listed on any of the medicine bottles, along with any others he has seen and ask them to fax you a full medication history. You can cross-reference this with what he has in his daily regimen and weed out any discrepancies. Take this list (and ideally, each of the actual prescription bottles) with him to each of his appointments.
Even if your father is still fairly independent, it is important that someone has a good understanding of his medical details in the event that he can’t answer for himself. If he were to suffer from side effects of over medication, he is less likely to be able to back track and get himself out of the cycle. He will need his “back up” person to step in and navigate.
There are several signs that can signal possible over medication. Some things to look out for include erratic or unexplained change in behavior, fatigue or exhaustion, oversleeping, medical complications or unusual physical problems, or appearing easily confused. You may notice that many of these are very similar to signs and side effects of typical diseases and ailments of the elderly. Regardless, if you notice these types of behaviors, it will never hurt to reevaluate the medication list. And if your doctor doesn’t meet you with equal concern, and offer a thorough exam and evaluation, get a second opinion. Too many times the elderly are written off because of what is deemed “normal,” and the consequences can be life threatening.
• Stacey Conkle is a longtime East Valley resident and community liaison working closely with seniors and their families during times of transition. Send questions and comments to Stacey@generationsofamerica.org.