Tool Helps Flag Over-Medication

It’s not uncommon for older adults to take several prescription medications each day to treat chronic illness but often seniors are taking drugs that may cause serious side effects including memory problems or dizziness, which can lead to falls and hospitalization.   Falls are the leading cause of emergency room visits among older adults and injuries resulting from a fall can hasten a move into assisted living and lead to a loss of independence.   A new Canadian electronic tool can help protect older adults from dangerous drug side effects or interactions.

According to a recent CBC News report, 40 percent of older adults take five or more medications daily, and studies have found that some of these medications may be unnecessary and unsafe for seniors.  A new tool, developed by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, helps doctors safely reduce the number of medications prescribed to patients over the age of 65.  MedSafer helps health care professionals monitor various medications and alerts doctors to potentially harmful or inappropriate prescriptions.

Over-medicating seniors is fast becoming one of the most concerning health problems for older adults; some patients over 65 can be taking up to 15 different medications at once.  The problem becomes even more serious if patients are visiting several different doctors for various health issues.  Polypharmacy can results in serious complications, side effects and drug interactions if not carefully monitored and reviewed.  A study of Veterans Affairs hospitals found that 44 percent of frail elderly patients were given at least one unnecessary medication at discharge.  

The MedSafer tool checks medications and combinations of drugs prescribed to a patient and will offer a recommendation if a drug can be safely stopped or the dosage reduced.  In the McGill study of 1,066 hospital patients in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, researchers found that by using MedSafer, 82 percent of patients were flagged as receiving potentially inappropriate medication.   After careful review by a doctor, 54.7 percent of patients had at least one medication de-prescribed before their discharge from the hospital. 

The tool not only has the potential to help reduce over-medication for older patients in hospital, but it could also be used to flag potential problems during routine doctor visits, in long-term care homes or by a pharmacist.   Always talk first with a doctor about reducing medications, never stop or start a medication without the supervision of a health care provider.