Less than 50% of all adults aged 60 and older are adherent to their prescribed medications (and the number goes way down when medication regimes increase in complexity). When drugs are prescribed to patients to treat disorders, the doses are tailored to that individual’s health needs. Therefore, not taking medications as prescribed (called nonadherence) can have dire consequences.  

While in-person supervision all day to ensure that an older-aged person correctly takes their medications is effective, it is not possible for both cost and resourcing concerns. Fortunately, there are other options to overcoming challenges to medication adherence that also enable more personal independence. 

Reminding yourself or your family member to adhere to prescribed medications 

Reportedly, 40% of those aged 65 and older have short-term memory impairments, per a medical research article in BMJ 

Therefore, using some system to remind yourself (or your senior-aged loved one) to take a daily medication is a good idea. This is especially true for seniors who are taking multiple daily prescribed medications to manage chronic health disorders or prevent them from developing.  

For inexpensive ways (yet not fully fool proof either), you could try daily planners, sticky notes, or cell phone reminders. However, keep in mind these tactics can have limitations — such as remembering if the sticky note was for today or yesterday.  

Medication interactions and side effects: Their role in prescription drug nonadherence 

The use of multiple daily medications to treat diseases and chronic health disorders is termed polypharmacy, according to the National Institute on Aging. This situation is most common in senior-aged people, and it increases the risk of a negative medication interaction. Around 50% of all seniors daily utilize at least five different medications. Meanwhile, a recent article in Cancer reported that 80% of senior-aged adults with cancer take five or more prescription drugs every day.  

The potential for a negative drug-to-drug interaction – and especially a gastrointestinal (GI) effect such as constipation or diarrhea – can lead to nonadherence in taking prescribed medications. Meanwhile, there is a recognized relationship between polypharmacy and the risk for kidney damage in elderly people. Therefore, it is crucial that medication monitoring by healthcare providers occur on a frequent and regular basis in seniors taking multiple daily medications. In this way, seniors prescribed drugs to treat their chronic health disorders will be less likely to either stop or incorrectly take their medications. 

Besides cancer, three common disorders in seniors that can require taking multiple daily prescribed medications are: 

  • Heart disorders (and especially following a heart attack resulting in heart damage) 
  • Stroke 
  • Diabetes (Types 1 and 2) 

Why are seniors at greater risk for short-term memory problems? 

Younger brains have a higher capacity for neuroplasticity than older brains. This means that – when brain cells mature and die – new ones are more likely to be generated at a more rapid rate in younger people than in senior-aged adults. Even more problematic, around 75% of all strokes occur in adults aged 65 and older. While a mild stroke may cause only slight weakness in a body part, strokes cause the death of brain cells. As a result, senior-aged stroke survivors are more likely to have short-term memory impairments.  

Taking antidepressants over many years can also result in short-term memory loss (per an article in Psychiatry Journal). Since stroke survivors often experience chronic depression, antidepressants are often prescribed to them. Furthermore, dementia is far more common in seniors than younger aged adults. Whatever the cause, having a short-term memory impairment can lead to forgetting to take a prescribed daily medication. 

The harmful consequences of not taking a prescribed medication 

Disability is the most common consequence of not taking a prescribed medication or not taking it correctly. For example, diabetes that is not well-controlled can lead to diverse other health disorders. Peripheral nerve pain and heart disease are far more common in diabetics with poorly-controlled blood sugar than in those with their diabetes under good control.  

Premature fatality is also a potential harmful consequence for people with chronic disorders who fail to take their daily medications. This is especially the case for people living with heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. Therefore, understanding why a specific medication is important plus not forgetting to take it is important for future health. 

If you are a senior or the caregiver of a senior, the Ōmcare Home Health Hub® is an all-in-one platform that can aid medication adherence by both providing medication reminders and dispensing the prescribed medications in a pre-packaged pouch.