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Polypharmacy Can Be Confusing, Dangerous, and Deadly


If you have an older family member who takes a lot of medicine, listen up. Their daily drug combo can be confusing, dangerous, and deadly. According to ABC News, almost one-third of seniors take at least five prescriptions a day, and if they have a chronic illness they might take more than 20. Add in the over-the-counter drugs, that two-thirds of adults also take, and you’ve got a potentially toxic brew called “polypharmacy.”

Dr. Barbara Paris is a geriatrics expert in Brooklyn. She says the drug interactions and side effects from polypharmacy are to blame for over 100,000 deaths a year. Take the case of 91-year-old Maynard Merel, who’s on 10 different types of medication. He has high cholesterol, high blood pressure, chronic asthma, and an underactive thyroid, but he has no idea which pill treats what and he often gets the dosages mixed up. For example, instead of taking just one thyroid pill a day, Merel was taking ten. He was regularly popping his wife’s anti-depressants. He became lethargic, until his doctor found out what was happening and cut back his daily meds. Experts say cases like this happen because seniors often see multiple doctors, who may not know what the other doctors have prescribed. It gets even worse when you toss in memory loss or Alzheimer’s. So, how can you protect your loved ones?

• First, watch for signs like weight loss, depression, and a lack of interest in their normal activities. It could mean they’re taking too many medications or misusing their drugs.

• Next, go with an older person to their doctor appointments, and take along the bottles of every drug they’re currently taking. That way, the doctor can catch any dangerous drug combinations.

• One final tip: elderly patients can authorize a doctor to discuss their treatment with family members so you can keep tabs on them. Just ask a doctor’s office staff for a HIPPA release form.