Problems with Medication Adherence in Seniors
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Problems with Medication Adherence in Seniors


Medications are prescribed to counteract health conditions in the body, and when prescribed and taken correctly, they are wonderful at this job. However, when medications are taken incorrectly, either with skipped doses or erroneously repeated doses, it can cause a major health setback, up to and including death.

Among seniors, failure to adhere to medication instructions as prescribed is sadly common. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that as many as 55% of seniors are non compliant with their medication, meaning they fail to take their medications according to their doctor’s prescribed instructions. Due to this, approximately 200,000 older adults are hospitalized every year due to adverse drug reactions.

There are many reasons that seniors might fail to take their medications as prescribed, and here are some of the more common ones, along with strategies and tips for caretakers and family members to help counter them.

  • Vision Problems: When older adults suffer from problems with their vision, it becomes a challenge to read the small print and instructions printed on medication pill bottles, or to distinguish between small, similar pills or tablets. This can lead to potentially dangerous medication misuse. Asking the doctor or pharmacist about more accessible labels is a potential solution. Labels can be made large print, or printed in braille should your loved one be familiar with it. Another option for seniors with visual impairment is a talking medication system. This two part system consists of a label with a microchip in it, combined with a reader that can scan the microchip and read crucial information out loud.


  • Memory Loss: Seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia are naturally prone to many problems managing their medications. They may skip doses, due to forgetting to take them, or they may take multiple doses, after forgetting they had just taken one, putting them at risk of overdose. Depending on the stage of dementia they’re suffering from, a simple pillbox organized by time and day may be sufficient. They can fill it weekly, either alone or with help, and simply consult it at the appropriate time to see whether or not the pills are there. For those unfortunately in the later stages, it may become necessary to have someone present at each time a medication should be taken, to ensure they take their doses as prescribed.


  • Limited Income: For seniors living on fixed incomes after retiring, many of them cannot afford all the medications they need. For seniors with low incomes, this can mean splitting pills, missing doses, or simply going without. For getting medications on a budget, look into switching to generic medications when possible. Generics contain the same active ingredients as the name-brand versions, but are usually much cheaper. Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist if there’s a generic version of your prescribed medications. There are also many financial assistance programs available for prescription drugs. The pharmacy may have a discount program, there may be a manufacturer discount, or state prescription assistance programs.