6 Common Problems That Interfere With Senior Medication Adherence

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, medication nonadherence is a significant problem among seniors in the United States. According to the agency:

  • Fifty-five percent of the elderly are non-compliant with their prescription drug orders, meaning they don’t take their medication according to the doctor’s instructions.
  • Approximately 200,000 older adults are hospitalized annually due to adverse drug reactions.

In this article, we present the six most frequently occurring underlying reasons for medication nonadherence among seniors. These are:

  • Vision problems
  • Memory loss
  • Limited income
  • Swallowing issues
  • Hearing loss
  • Social isolation

Vision Problems

Vision issues represent a common problem experienced by a senior that interferes with medication adherence. An older individual may intend to take a particular medication or medication properly. Indeed, a senior might believe that he or she is doing so. However, due to vision problems, a senior misreads a medicine label (or labels) and is taking a medication (or medications) incorrectly.

There are solutions to medication adherence issues that arise from vision problems. Over the course, a visit to the eye doctor likely is in order.

You can also ask your loved one’s pharmacist about accessible prescription medication labels. Many pharmacies offer labels with large print and even labels featuring braille instructions. Another option for seniors with significant vision loss who take several different medications is the use of a talking medication system. These systems include special microchipped labels and a “reader” that can scan individual pill bottles and recite crucial information, such as the drug name, dosage, instructions, prescription number, refill date, pharmacy information, warnings, and patient education leaflets, out loud to the patient. These more sophisticated prescription labels are commonly available through larger mail-order pharmacies.

Memory Loss

Memory-related issues abound regarding medication adherence among people in their Golden Years. Memory problems can lead to forgetting to take medicines, taking too much medicine, and other similar issues that can have serious consequences.

Different solutions are available when an older family member suffers memory loss. These solutions are associated with the extent of memory loss occurring in a particular situation.

Depending on a loved one’s dementia progression, a pillbox may be sufficient in the early stages to help them organize and track their medications. Many types of products are available, including computerized pill boxes that call a designated number if pills have not been taken on time, alarmed pillboxes, and automatic dispensers.

Seniors with more advanced dementia often lose the ability to manage their medications safely. For this reason, someone must be present to provide medication reminders and ensure the elder takes their meds as instructed. Professional in-home caregivers can provide this and many other services that help extend dementia patients’ independence.

Assisted living is another alternative. Medication management is a service provided in nearly all assisted living communities in the United States.

Limited Income

Media reports on older Americans with limited incomes who must choose between medications, food, or rent are widespread. The reality is that many seniors have financial issues. These issues impact their ability to obtain medications they should be taking. It is a frequent reason why medication adherence is not occurring.

There are some strategies for affording medications on a budget. One such tactic is to use generic prescription drugs when possible.

Research financial assistance programs for prescription medications. Your loved one’s pharmacy may offer a discount program. A pharmacist may be aware of manufacturer discount programs. State prescription assistance programs can help significantly reduce drug costs.

Unfortunately, Original Medicare (Parts A and B) only covers a limited number of outpatient prescription drugs under limited conditions. An additional Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D) can help minimize drug costs, but beneficiaries must pay monthly premiums for this optional coverage. However, seniors with limited income and resources may qualify for Extra Help, which is a program offered by Medicare. This program helps seniors pay their Part D premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance.

Swallowing Issues

Some seniors have trouble swallowing medication tablets or capsules due to health issues. There is an actual medical condition related to some swallowing issues called dysphagia. Seniors who have difficulty swallowing may try to chew, crush, break, or mix their tablets or capsules in food or drink. While this might seem like a good solution on the surface, it can actually be dangerous. Some medications are long-acting formulas that will be released too fast when broken or crushed. Other medicines either will not work correctly or could make the person sick when broken apart or crushed.

As far as solutions to a swallowing issue are concerned, it is necessary to stress that crushing or breaking apart a pill is never the solution unless directed to do so by a doctor. What can be done is to ascertain if some other formulation is available for a particular medication, like a liquid.

Hearing Loss

A senior who is deaf or hard of hearing may have difficulty hearing and understanding instructions that the doctor or pharmacist provides about how to take their medications. This underscores the need to read printed information provided with the medication.

A family member is helpful by attending an appointment with a senior’s doctor regarding medication. An older individual should also be encouraged to ask a doctor to repeat what is being said if he or she doesn’t initially hear what was stated.

Social Isolation

Many elderly people live on their own in the community. Research demonstrates that many older individuals who live independently do not adhere to medication requirements.

A family member might become involved in medication management to ensure better medication adherence. In the alternative, a professional caregiver might also be considered. The objective is to include another person in the medication management process to ensure that meds are being taken properly. If any of these common medication adherence problems are addressed, odds are enhanced significantly that an older individual will be on course to take medications in a prescribed, proper manner. This ultimately results in an enhancement of that person’s health and overall sense of well-being.