Getting older: The problem with not taking medications properly



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It's a conundrum. The better science and healthy living gets at helping us live to a ripe old age, the more likely it is we're going to need some kind of medication in later years. Yet, as we get older, it's easy to develop problems with taking those medications. Until now, however, little has been done to look into the reasons older people begin to need help with their medications or even how widespread a problem adherence is.


Asking questions

In a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers investigated data from 4,106 African American and white older adults living in five counties in North Carolina that they accessed through the 10-year Duke EPESE study. Participants had health issues that included poor vision, poor hearing, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac problems and cancer (except skin cancer).

For the study, participants were asked whether they were able to take their medicine without help — in the right doses and at the right times. The researchers tested each participant on his or her mental abilities. They also determined how many prescription and over-the-counter medications the participants took.

The researchers reported that people aged 80 and older were 1.5 to 3 times more likely to need help with their medications than those aged 65 to 69. Men were 1.5 to 2 times more likely as women to need help. The odds of needing help were 3 to 5 times greater among people who had difficulty with memory


Predicting factors

While at the beginning of the study, 7.1% of participants needed help taking their medications, after three years, a further 11% needed help who had not before. Factors predicting a new or increased need for help were similar to those seen at the beginning of the study:

  • Being 75-years-old or older
  • Being male
  • Having memory problems
  • Having problems performing activities of daily living

Poor adherence, warn the researchers, can mean the worsening of disease, greater healthcare costs and even death. "Health conditions may worsen or not improve if older adults skip or don't take their medications properly," says Dr. Brenda D. Jamerson, from the Center on Biobehavioral Health Disparities Research at Duke University. "Serious side effects may also occur from taking medications at the wrong time or in the wrong dose. Some older adults can put themselves at risk for experiencing problems if they don't receive the assistance they may need."