Eldercare: Managing meds

Monitoring medications is an important part of healthy aging.

Eldercare: Managing meds

Monitoring medications is an important part of healthy aging.

Harris professors are involved in a number of significant research initiatives, ranging from distance caregiving for elders to heart disease in women to healthy aging and medication patterns in elders.

Professor Linda C. Curry, associate Professor Charles Walker ’77 and Hogstel, now a professor emeritus, head a project for full-time TCU employees who are or one day may be caregivers. The professors host eldercare information sessions six times in the academic year and monthly support groups year-round.

Dennis Cheek, the Abell-Hanger Professor of Gerontological Nursing, is tackling the massive amounts of medications the elderly take.

“Someone living in the United States who reaches 65 will usually live an additional 18 years,” he said. “Adults over the age of 65 — which is about 12 percent of the U.S. population — buy 30 percent of all prescription and 40 percent of all over-the-counter drugs.”

Those who are ambulatory typically take two to four prescription drugs regularly, while others may take up to 10. Cheek notes that drug misuse is the fifth-leading cause of death in older adults. “The problem is you start to have the interaction of all these medications that are on board.”

Cheek advises caregivers to reconcile all the drugs — prescription, over-the-counter, herbal — with the main doctor once or twice a year. Unlike years ago when the whole family saw just one doctor, today’s elderly may see a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, nephrologist and ophthalmologist, in addition to the primary care physician.

“You may have eight or 10 doctors who prescribe different medications for their specialty — but you may be doubling up,” Cheek said.

A general practitioner may prescribe the generic Digoxin for heart failure, and then the heart specialist may require Lanoxin — essentially the same drug. “And Digoxin is one of those very dangerous drugs for older adults to take. They can become very toxic very quickly,” Cheek said. “So somebody should be looking over that list of medications.”

A similar problem can occur when herbs are added to the mix. Someone who’s taking prescription Prozac and then adds in the herbal St. John’s wort is double dosing.

Cheek advises taking a list of meds to doctor appointments and asking if anything can be removed or reduced. And when new medication is prescribed, ask if it is the correct drug and then watch for changes or new symptoms in the patient. The drug information should include information on geriatric use. — RM

Check out these sites to manage medication: Enter all the meds the family member is on and find out what reactions you can expect. Register and then add/delete drugs as you go. Features information from the National Institutes for Health. Lots of information, and you can order drugs here.