Older Adults and Substance Abuse Awareness

Palmer MH high(8) res

Alice Pomidor, MD, MPH, AGSF
Professor
Florida State University School of Medicine

Mary Palmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, AGSF
Helen W. and Thomas L. Umphlet Distinguished Professor in Aging
UNC School of Nursing

It’s been called the “invisible epidemic.” In recent years, for the first time, the number of older adults receiving treatment for substance abuse is outpacing that of younger adults.

There are many reasons why the number of older adults who are receiving treatment for substance abuse is on the rise. With aging come very real challenges that can make some older adults more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs.

Job loss, either through retirement or downsizing, caretaking for (or losing) a spouse, children moving away, illness, and financial worries are among the challenges older adults can face. What’s more, some older adults have had had lifelong problems with alcohol or drugs that can become more serious as they age.

What is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse is an umbrella term that means misusing legal or illegal medications and drugs, as well as misusing alcohol and tobacco. Officially, substance abuse is the use of chemicals that lead to an increased risk of problems and an inability to control your use of the substance.

Addiction, dependence, or “getting hooked” on a drug or alcohol can have especially dangerous consequences for older adults. These substances can cause mental problems, kidney and liver disease, and can cause falls resulting in injuries. Even if you’ve never had a problem with alcohol or drugs, you can become dependent on them in your later years.

Because many older adults manage more than one chronic illness, they may take one or more medications that can interact harmfully. The drugs you take may also react badly with alcohol. The symptoms you may experience as a result may seem to you like typical signs of aging, such as confusion, forgetfulness, dizziness, or sleepiness. In fact, symptoms like these may be reactions due to substance abuse. Continue reading

Polypharmacy and Deprescribing

WebDoes the number of medications you’re taking sometimes seem too high? Maybe it’s time for you and your healthcare provider to give your medication list a check-up by taking a closer look at the prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments you take.

As you grow older, you’re more likely to develop health conditions that require taking multiple medications—some of which you may take for a long time. Many older people also take OTC medications, vitamins, or supplements as part of their routine care. As a result, older adults have a higher risk of overmedication, also known as “polypharmacy”—the medical term for taking four or more medications at the same time. Polypharmacy can increase your chances of unwanted reactions (also called “adverse drug reactions”) due to medications taken on their own or together.

To address this increasingly common problem, healthcare providers are focusing on how to reduce the number of medicines older adults are using through a practice called “deprescribing.” Dr. Michael Steinman, a member of the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) and a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco, recently appeared on WPUR—Boston’s NPR News Station—to discuss deprescribing with Dr. Barb Farrell, a pharmacist from Bruyère Geriatric Day Hospital in Ottawa, and Laura Landro, assistant managing editor at the Wall Street Journal. Hear what they had to say.

Want access to more tips and tools to help you manage multiple chronic conditions or multiple medications? We’ve got you covered.

 

The 2015 Updated AGS Beers Criteria: What’s New

Donna-Fick headshotTodd-Semla headshot

Donna M. Fick, PhD, RN, GCNS-BC, FGSA, FAAN

Todd P. Semla, PharmD, MS, AGSF

Co-Chairs of the 2015 Updated AGS Beers Criteria Expert Panel

 

 

 

Today, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) released its 2015 Updated Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults. For more than 20 years, the Beers Criteria have served as a valued resource for healthcare professionals about the safety of prescribing medications to older adults. In fact, the AGS Beers Criteria have become one of the most frequently used reference tools in the field of geriatrics. The AGS Beers Criteria were previously updated in 2012.

How We Updated the Beers Criteria
The 2015 Updated AGS Beers Criteria reflect work done by a panel of 13 geriatrics experts convened by the AGS. The panel searched for clinical trials and research studies since the 2012 AGS Beers Criteria were issued, and found more than 20,000 results! From this pool, our team reviewed more than 6,700 studies. From there, we were able to identify more than 40 potentially problematic medications or classes of medications, which we organized into five lists. While these lists aren’t exhaustive, they can be very helpful as conversation-starters between older adults and their healthcare providers about what treatment options work best from one individual to the next.

What’s New?
In addition to updating two lists of medications that may be potentially harmful for people aged 65 and older who are not receiving palliative or hospice care, the 2015 Updated AGS Beers Criteria now contain:

  • Separate guidance on avoiding 13 combinations of medications known to cause harmful “drug-drug interactions.” Some medications may be inappropriate when prescribed together because they can increase an older adult’s risk for falls, fractures, or urinary incontinence, for example.
  • A list of 20 potentially problematic medications to avoid or for which doses should be adjusted depending on an older person’s kidney function. These medications could raise risks for problems such as nausea, diarrhea, bleeding, problems affecting the brain and nervous system, and changes in mental well-being and bone marrow toxicity (a condition in which bone marrow makes fewer blood cells).
  • Three new medications and two new “classes” of medications added to the Criteria. An example of a new class of medication includes the proton-pump inhibitors that some people take for acid reflux or stomach ulcers. Recent studies have linked these medications to an increased risk for bone loss, fractures, and serious bacterial infections, which is why they were added to the 2015 AGS Beers Criteria.

Continue reading

Medication Adherence: A Tough Pill to Swallow

KIM MOON - KimPick1 - webresKimberly Moon, PharmD
Clinical Pharmacist

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan David2


David Dadiomov
Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate
University of Michigan
College of Pharmacy

 

The number of Americans with chronic medical conditions is increasing, which means that chronic medication use is playing a larger role in their lives. The World Health Organization estimates that 157 million Americans will require medications for at least one chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Luckily, treatments exist for these diseases that prolong life and improve quality of life as well. Medications can help improve medical conditions when they are taken as prescribed.

Taking medications improperly not only affects people who take these medications, but is also costly for our entire health care system. Medication non-adherence leads to 1/3rd of all medication-related hospitalizations and about $300 billion in avoidable costs. It is clear that medication non-adherence is a huge problem; several common concerns may be responsible for this issue.

“I’m worried about cost”
Cost is an important factor for those that take medications. When people first get placed on medications it is a relatively unexpected cost that they must now budget for. Luckily, many oral medications for management of blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes are available as affordable generic medications. These medications are on the most affordable level of co-payment on most health plans, but even those without insurance may still benefit from pricing at various pharmacies that offer these medications at a low cost. For those who are prescribed expensive medications, most drug manufacturers have patient assistance programs to help with medication costs for those who qualify. Also, taking a long-term perspective is important. The daily cost of most medications is certainly less than the cost of a hospitalization due to a heart attack, stroke, or dialysis due to kidney damage.

“I’m concerned about the side effects”
No drug is without side effects. Luckily, for most people, side effects are minimal and medications are generally well tolerated. Sometimes certain side effects may prevent people from taking their medications as prescribed. Often a pharmacist’s recommendation on medication use or management of side effects can help alleviate concerns. For instance, certain medications should be taken with food, or at a certain time of day. Other medications may have side effects for the first few weeks, but then go away. It is important to ask questions when being prescribed a new medication and calling the pharmacist with questions about the medication or how to take it. Keeping a clear line of communication is important to medication adherence.

“I take too many pills”
Taking several medications is often discouraging for people, and may make it hard to remember to take them at the correct times. A pill box for each day of the week can help manage medications and at the very least, help see how many doses were missed during the week. Many medications are available in a once-daily formulation or even in a combination with another routine medication to reduce the total number of pills taken per day. Again it is important to talk with your prescribing healthcare provider and pharmacist.

“I don’t feel I need my medications”
People with conditions such as high cholesterol don’t have symptoms, so they could feel medications for this condition are not needed. It is important to remember that medications that lower cholesterol are important in reducing the 10-year-risk of developing a heart attack or stroke. People may not “feel” the medicine working, but research studies show taking medications as prescribed can help reduce risk of heart attack or stroke. Remember: Having high blood pressure or diabetes may not always make you feel like there is anything wrong with you, but these diseases can damage your kidneys and lead to kidney disease that may require dialysis.

Questions to ask the pharmacist:

  • How am I supposed to take this medication?
  • What is this medication used for?
  • How does this medication work?
  • What can I expect with this medication?
  • How will I know this medication is working?

 

It’s Not Normal: Persistent Pain

Maryjo L. Cleveland, MD
Medical Director, Post Acute & Senior Services
Chief, Division of Geriatric Medicine
Summa Health System
Akron, Ohio 

There are many issues facing older adults that are common, but should not be considered inevitable. This blog will launch a series for 2014, all bundled under the general heading of “It’s Not Normal”.  Over the next year, I intend to cover a variety of topics that include dementia, incontinence, falls and depression. If you have suggestions for this series, please leave a comment.

The kick-off for this series is pain. While pain is common as we age, it should never be considered “normal”.  Pain should always be discussed with your healthcare provider, so that he or she can help determine the cause (or causes).  Your healthcare provider can then help you figure out an approach to remove or reduce both the pain and the affect it has on your life.

Acute pain is pain that has happened recently and usually has a known cause. An example of this is a sprained ankle. A few weeks of ice, rest and over the counter pain medications (such as acetaminophen) is usually all that is required for relief to occur.

Chronic or persistent pain, however, is more of a problem. You may have had this pain for some time and the direct cause may not be known.  There are different kinds of chronic pain. These include:

  • pain from nerves, such as diabetic neuropathy or pain from a stroke
  • joint or bone pain such as arthritis or gout
  • some kinds of internal pain, such as abdominal pain from Irritable Bowel Syndrome