Almost half of over 65s in England take at least five different drugs each day, according to a 2017 study conducted at the University of Cambridge. The increasing rates of polypharmacy, taking multiple medications simultaneously, means that prescribing for the elderly is becoming an increasingly important aspect of clinical patient care.
Here, Oliver Pittock, managing director at medical packaging experts, Valley Northern, explores what can be done to help the ageing population keep safe around prescribed medications and avoid mishaps.
For many older people, effective medication management can mean the difference between being able to remain in their own home and needing full-time care. For those living at home, support can come from a variety of sources, including family members, carers and their local pharmacy, which can perform regular medication checks and provide effective medication management tools.
A study by the University of Leicester revealed that the number of people over the age of 50 developing multiple conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis, is on the rise. With numerous types of medication required to treat these conditions, the potential for medication mismanagement rises dramatically. To tackle this, many pharmacies now offer monitored dosage systems (MDS), which allow pharmacists to provide medication in a pre-filled tablet dispenser pack. This means all the medication that needs to be taken at the same time each day are contained in one individual compartment.
MDS services are available for anybody who may struggle to correctly manage and administer medications, including the elderly who may forget when to take tablets or struggle to open packaging because of conditions like arthritis.
Tablet dispensers are also helpful for visually impaired people. According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People, one in five individuals aged 75 and over are living with sight loss, meaning medication management can be difficult. MDS and tablet dispensers mean the patient can feel compartments to administer the correct dosage.
Many people are unaware that the MDS service is available. Ensuring it is suggested during medication reviews or when patients or carers pick up prescriptions, can ease the stress around medication administration and enhance quality of life.
As important as it is to clearly explain the correct way to take medication when dispensing, it can be easy for these messages to become confused or even forgotten.
One answer to this is clear, eye-catching labelling to easily convey information before opening the medication packet. Valley Northern’s range of labels include urgent and final repeat, in addition to fridge item, cytotoxic and speak to pharmacist labels. This means your storage, administration or disposal instructions are clearly communicated beyond the pharmacy counter, directly into the patient’s home.
Pharmacist-led medicine reviews have been shown to enhance understanding of medications being taken and reduce polypharmacy and associated risks of side effects.
A medication review is also the perfect time to enquire about the safe storage of medicines. Lockable medication cabinets are available and can keep medication out of reach, whether that be from the prying hands of visiting grandchildren or to enhance safety for vulnerable elderly people.
When combined with pre-filled blister packs, systems such as medication cabinets that can only be opened by carers can be a significant aid in the safe handling of medication.
Rising rates of polypharmacy in elderly people highlights the importance of tactics such as prefilled MDS systems, medication cabinets and medication reviews. These services are just some of the ways in which pharmacists can help patients and carers to ensure elderly people safely manage and take medication.