We refer to a doctor, healthcare professional or hospital to make us feel better when we are ill, but alarming statistics suggest that preventable medical errors may be the third leading cause of death in the U.S. The causes include medical injury, polypharmacy, receiving treatment that leads to further medical complications, or suffering from an allergic reaction to medication. Knowing the dangers of polypharmacy may save you or a loved one from being a part of these alarming statistics.
A study on elderly Medicare patients found that one in five suffered some type of medical injury as a result of treatment, either in a hospital or as an outpatient. Other studies support these figures, showing 19% of seniors (including a small percentage of hospitalized patients) are the victim of medical errors. These include inappropriate blood transfusions, contracting hospital infections and medication errors, including polypharmacy in older adults.
What is Polypharmacy?
Polypharmacy is defined as taking four or more medications on a regular basis. Taking a combination of drugs can be a significant hazard, as there will inevitably be some interaction between the medications, which can cause serious side effects.
In addition, there is the danger of a person being allergic to a particular drug or combination of drugs, or in some cases being prescribed an inappropriate dose or even a wrong medication altogether. The hazards and dangers of polypharmacy are multiple, yet many seniors will be prescribed a statin, a beta-blocker, an ACE inhibitor and an antidepressant after suffering a heart attack. They may then take aspirin or paracetamol for a headache or joint pain, so the dangers of polypharmacy are highly likely.
Ways to Avoid the Dangers of Polypharmacy
Preventing polypharmacy in older adults is important as, ironically, taking less medication may be healthier than taking something to prevent or fix every minor complaint. Polypharmacy can lead to undesirable side effects, reactions to drugs (especially if the drugs interact with each other) or even unintentional overdoses if seniors forget whether they have taken their pills.
Tips for avoiding the dangers of polypharmacy include:
- Being treated by just one physician rather than multiple doctors or specialists. This way the doctor can be aware of whatever medications the patient is taking; and the doctor can more effectively assess any health risks, if any, and consider the possible drug interactions
- Make good food choices so that you need less medication to live healthily, without the need for medications, particularly multiple medications
- Get plenty of quality sleep to allow your body to do its own healing and repair
- Take vitamins and natural supplements rather than medications
- Regular exercise can also be helpful in preventing polypharmacy in older adults
Being aware of the dangers of polypharmacy may help you make better long-term decisions about your health to avoid becoming another innocent victim of our overly-medicated polypharmaceutical culture.