The changes in our body as we age may mean we need to start taking more medications, and also that the body is more responsive to the medications already taken. This can result in the need to reduce consumption or change the types of medications consumed.
As a result of the potential impact medication consumption can have on the consumers’ wellbeing and their falls risk, all prescriptions should be individualised and frequently reviewed.
Assessment of the risks and benefits of medication is very important, especially as a person ages. This is because:
- Ageing can contribute to an individuals metabolism slowing down, which can result in medicines staying in the body for longer.
- All medicines have potential side effects, which can increase as more medicines are consumed.
- If medicines are not taken as they are prescribed or are combined, the consumer can react differently to how they were originally intended.
- Long-term use of medicines such as sleeping pills can increase an individual’s overall health risk and risk of falling.
Common medication side effects that can increase falls risk include:
- Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting
- Feeling unsteady
- Blurred or double vision
- Memory problems
Taking multiple medications increases the likelihood of adverse effects and interactions. Older adults who take 5 or more medications each day are at an increased risk of falling.
View the Check Your Medicines with Nancy animation or learn about the importance of Checking Your Medicines to Improve Your Health with Peter, a retired pharmacist.
How can I assist older adults to manage their medicines?
Managing medicines appropriately can be a simple and easy way to reduce side effects. Simple behaviours that older adults can enact to effectively manage their medicines include:
- Keep an up-to-date list of their medicines. Note the use-by date and the reason why they are taken.
- Book a medicine check or a home medicine review with their GP or Pharmacist.
- If sleeping tablets have been taken for longer than two weeks, a GP should be consulted with about a gradual reduction plan.
- Do not share medicines with others. Mixing medicines can increase side effects.
- Ask their Pharmacist to organise the medicines into a dosage administration aid or Webster Pack, so it is easier to identify which medications should be taken and when.
- Pay attention to how your body and mind feel. If they notice any changes such as feeling dizzy, drowsy, depressed, or in pain, older adults should speak to their GP.
The following management strategies may help older adults to manage their medicines:
- Dose administration aids: A dose administration aid, such as a Webster-pack or pillbox, is a simple way to manage medicines. The aid is set up by a pharmacist for a small fee. The aids include details of all the medicines inside, as well as when and how often each medicine needs to be taken. The information is laid out clearly and is easy to follow. These aids are also very useful for travelling.
- Medicine Lists: The Stay On Your Feet® Medicine Lists are available free of charge in various formats, and are a useful way to track medicines. It is a good idea for older adults to have multiple copies of the list (i.e. a copy with a family member, a copy at home, and a copy with them at all times for medical appointments or in case of an emergency). Older adults can also ask their pharmacist for an information sheet on their medicines to take to health appointments.
- MedsCheck: A MedsCheck involves an in-pharmacy review of an individual’s medicines. Older adults who take multiple medicines, or take medicines to help them sleep, should be advised to visit their doctor or pharmacist for a medication check or review.
- Home Medicine Reviews: Doctors may be able to provide a referral for a free home medicines review. This involves a consultant pharmacist visiting the older adult’s home to conduct a medicine check, discuss any concerns, and report back to the doctor.
- The “Medications Risk Assessment Form” for older adults to fill in and take to their GP to discuss if they require a medication review can be found on page 80 for the Preventing Falls and Harm From Falls in Older People: Best Practice Guidelines for Australian Community Care 2009.