Rip Martin

Due to longer life spans and the nation’s cohort of baby boomers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there will be 72 million older adults in the U.S. by 2030, which will account for approximately 20% of the nation’s population. This skyrocketing rate means that not only will senior living communities need to anticipate an increase in the number of residents for whom to care, but also prepare for senior healthcare issues such as medication adherence to multiply.

Complex prescription regimens can be difficult for seniors to manage alone and can become increasingly difficult to handle, as the number of medications one takes often increases with age. According to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, more than 40% of adults aged 65 or more years take five or more medications, and 12% use 10 or more – yet half of all people do not take their medications as prescribed. When one’s health condition requires maintaining multiple prescription schedules, it often leads to forgotten, incorrect or mistimed doses that can result in severe health consequences, such as falls.

Senior living communities can play a big role in helping manage their residents’ medication adherence and avoid the costly consequences of nonadherence — from both health and financial perspectives — for themselves and residents. Poor medication adherence is a significant source of wasteful healthcare spending, higher readmission rates and inferior clinical outcomes. With the help of technology, however, healthcare professionals within senior living communities are in a place to empower seniors and caregivers with the education and tools that potentially can help ease this stress and mitigate the associated negative outcomes.

Risk of nonadherence

When seniors take multiple medications, they are at increased risk of health issues, including cognitive disorders, falls, hip fractures, depression and incontinence, and the risk is even greater when they take their medications incorrectly. This is especially an area of concern for many senior living communities, as their residents often take multiple fall risk-increasing drugs.

According to a Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management study, factors such as shelf life, dosage and medication changes also affect fall risk, with shorter shelf life, higher dosages and newly prescribed medication increasing the incidence of falls or risk of hospital admission for falls. This study also proved how long a senior takes the medication and when he or she stops taking it also are key, as older adults are more susceptible to falls soon after starting and stopping medications.

All of these factors put mounting pressure on senior living staff members,who are caring for dozens of residents, each with their own unique medication regimen. Knowing the risk factors for seniors taking multiple medications, keeping a close eye on residents’ medication regimens and mandating periodic reassessments of potential risk associated with the regimens is key to helping provide that residents are safer and healthier.

Smart dispensing technology

Due to these risks, in combination with the growing senior population and each senior’s unique needs, medication adherence is a growing concern for senior housing and care communities. Medication adherence technology offers a way to help improve the odds that residents will remain safer and adherent to their medication regimens.

Medication-dispensing solutions can help older adults keep up with their medication schedules and involve the care team, with some solutions offering remote alerts to staff when medication is not taken. Tools such as this can help streamline the time-consuming task of medication management, and in turn, allow care teams to focus on low or nonadherent residents, allowing more time for staff members to attend to other urgent matters and residents, potentially improving the overall efficiency of the community.

Not only do these medication-dispensing solutions save time for nursing staff in senior living communities, but medication adherence is associated with greatly reducing healthcare costs as well. Although taking medication is a simple, habit-forming task for many, poor medication adherence is a major issue when caring for seniors, and it is responsible for $100 billion per year in hospital admissions, according to a study in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy. The same study revealed that with proper medication adherence, massive healthcare cost savings are driven by reductions in preventable emergency department visits — meaning fewer trips to the hospital and more time spent aging in place.

These solutions also give seniors dignity by allowing them to have a more active role in their health, and they give caregivers and senior living community staff members the peace of mind that their residents are following doctor’s orders and staying healthier. These smart devices can be customized for residents’ individual needs, and some dispensers even provide reminder alerts for non-pill medications and instructions on taking their medications, if needed. With the advent of bluetooth devices and telehealth, it now is possible to combine these solutions to aggregate data, analyze and gain insights that allow us to engage older adults in a more holistic manner, allowing treatment to be tailored to the needs of the senior and helping them stay in the place they call home. 

Make use of the technology at your disposal

We live in an era when technology is playing an increasing role in how we approach our daily lives, including our health routines. Connected technology for medication adherence can allow seniors, caregivers, senior living communities and healthcare systems to work together effectively and efficiently. With greater technology integration, we can work toward decreasing avoidable readmissions, improving the health of our loved ones and easing some of the pressures facing today’s senior living communities.

Through providing the right education to seniors and caregivers on the importance of medication adherence and the solutions available, we can not only improve healthcare outcomes and costs nationally; we also can see our residents live their best lives and feel more confident aging in the place they call home.

Ripley “Rip” Martin is general manager at Philips Home Monitoring.

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