Polypharmacy: A growing risk for elderly people

Medicines play a major role in improving health conditions, relieving and preventing pain, but they can also cause problems, especially when taking different types of drugs at random. Elderly people are more susceptible to various side effects due to excessive medication.
Thus, in the coming days, the Quality Assurance Centre at Ministry of Health, will launch an awareness campaign under the slogan of Polypharmacy in all hospitals affiliated to the Ministry of Health, as part of the celebration of the International Patient Safety Day, which falls on September 17 of each year.
Research has shown that patients taking more than 5 different medications regularly are more prone to movement problems such as falls, weakness and disability. However, many people suffering from chronic diseases need long-term medication.
Also, other than prescription drugs, many patients take over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements, thus increasing the physical burden and causing health problems by consuming multiple drugs.
Unfortunately, a complex medical system creates polypharmacy making older patients with multiple chronic conditions take several different medications with various dosages prescribed by separate physicians.
The prevalence of polypharmacy in older adults is increasing in most countries and here a question which we need to raise and that is, is there scalable interventions to reduce polypharmacy (by de-prescribing or other interventions), which definitely needed to revert the trend of increasing levels of polypharmacy in the older population.
Patients and caregivers can look for common symptoms of adverse reactions and drug interactions resulting from polypharmacy. The common signs are a loss of appetite, diarrhoea, tiredness, confusion and hallucinations, falls, dizziness, depression and anxiety.
Unfortunately, these signs and symptoms can also be related to the disease itself or be a consequence of ageing. Looking the mention points, different researchers also concluded that multiple medications make the elderly more susceptible to high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes and heart attacks, and also found that the ability to walk well, which is a sign of good health for the elderly, may be affected by the use of multiple drugs.
At the end, to avoid some of the risks of polypharmacy, we need to continue developing and implementing tools, like computerised decision support systems for instance, that can help clinicians tailor prescriptions to the specific needs of the individual patient. I do encourage the monthly revelation of the elderly patient to reduce adverse effects of polypharmacy medication regimes. Also, a single agent should be prescribed instead of multiple drugs for the treatment of a single condition, if possible. A key message here I would say is medication review is an essential part of medicine.

Dr Yousuf Ali al Mulla, MD, Ministry of Health, is a medical innovator and educator. For any queries regarding the content of the column he can be contacted at: dryusufalmulla@gmail.com