Over the past decade, the use of multiple medications (clinically known as polypharmacy) has skyrocketed among older adults.

The result has been increased rates of adverse drug events. These events run the gamut from dizziness and falls to delirium, heart attack, stroke and even death.

Medication overload is especially prevalent in senior living settings, because residents tend to be older and frailer, with multiple chronic conditions.

Governments, organizations and individual facilities all have taken actions to reduce harm from adverse drug events in assisted living communities and nursing homes. Institutions and policymakers, however, still could do more to ensure that residents are not burdened by over-medication.

Here are a few recommendations for reducing medication overload, from the recently released report, “Eliminating Medication Overload: A National Action Plan”:

Recognize potential medication harms. The first step toward reducing medication overload is recognizing the harm that medications can cause for elderly and frail individuals. Administrators and clinicians all should be aware that certain medications — such as antipsychotics, blood thinners, anti-seizure meds and diuretics — are especially dangerous.

Implement regular prescription checkups. Prescription checkups are visits where the patient (and family member or caregiver) review all their medications with their primary care provider and identify unnecessary or potentially harmful meds that can be safely deprescribed (discontinued or reduced in dose).

Raise awareness of medication overload among residents and family. Residents and family members / caregivers may not be aware of the potential harms of taking multiple medications for very old and frail individuals. Even those who have concerns about the number of medications they or their loved one is taking may not feel comfortable bringing up the subject with their care team. Family members and caregivers often are the first to recognize drug side effects, so they should be empowered to start conversations with the care team about medications.

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