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Seniors are being over-prescribed drugs and not tracking their medication intake

Two recent separate studies have revealed concerning habits of Australians who are either taking multiple medications on a regular basis and aren’t tracking what they take, or are over-medicated, which is causing harm.

Two different studies around medication has found that Australians aren't recording multiple drug intact, as well as a high increase of multiple drugs prescribed to seniors. [Source: Shutterstock]

A YouGov Galaxy survey released by the National Prescribing Service (NPS) MedicineWise found that nearly three quarters of Australians aren’t recording the medicines they are taking on a regular basis, while has implications for safe and effective medicine use.

The survey result is concerning considering a study from the University of Western Australia and University of New South Wales discovered nearly one million Australians over 70 are taking five or more medicines each day, which can result in adverse outcomes, like dysphagia, falls, nutritional deficiencies, impaired cognition, hospital admission or death.

Multiple medication use, also known as polypharmacy, has been a concern of the World Health Organisation, who have set a target to halve multiple medication use to reduce medication-related harm.  

Coupled with the fact that many Australians taking more than two medications aren’t appropriately tracking their drug intake, it is a worrying trend that could potentially result in bad side effects impacting the health and wellbeing of seniors.

NPS MedicineWise Chief Executive Officer and Pharmacist, Associate Professor Steve Morris, says keeping an updated and complete list of all your medicines, including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines, is an important part of being medicine wise.

“Keeping track of all your medicines can help reduce the risk of medicine interactions and double-ups and can help you get the most out of your medicines, safely,” says Mr Morris.

“A medicines list needs to include medicines that have been prescribed by a health professional, as well as anything else you take for your health. This includes vitamins and herbal supplements as these are also considered medicines. 

“The information in a medicines list can help to reduce the risk of [medication] interactions when starting a new medicine and can help your healthcare provider when they review your [prescriptions].”

The survey from NPS MedicineWise found that one in three Australians who take multiple medicines do keep a list of their consumed medicines.

A further 26 percent of people who take regular medicines only list the prescribed medications, and the remaining 43 percent only record some, or none, of their medicines.

As adults age, they have more chronic conditions, often taking multiple and different drugs to help symptoms or complications, with aged care residents generally taking the most medication.

‘Polypharmacy among older Australians, 2006–2017: a population‐based study’, initiated by researchers from the University of WA and University of NSW, found that between 2006 and 2017, the prevalence of multiple medications grew by nine percent.

This includes a 52 percent increase in the number of people taking five or more medicines a day over that period, due to population growth.

Additionally, over the past 20 years, the number of seniors receiving medications in community care has doubled.

The researchers of the study believe these estimates are conservative, because it doesn’t factor in over-the-counter medicines and supplements.

Currently, Australia’s multiple medication rates are higher than similar Western countries, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The paper says, “Medical practitioners are increasingly aware of the high risk of harm for older people associated with polypharmacy, and the need for strategies for consolidating management of patients with chronic diseases and for deprescribing inappropriate medicines is recognised. 

“... Polypharmacy can be appropriate, but this needs to be balanced against the risk that it may contribute to adverse health outcomes in older people. 

“Translational research into strategies for reducing medicine use and complexity that target both health professionals and the public is needed.”


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