One third of pensioners in the UK are affected by medication harm, according to a new report. Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School and King’s College London found that the elderly are often prescribed up to nine medications, which when combined can have a detrimental impact on health.
Many of these patients are being discharged from hospital with a cocktail of drugs that can do them harm. Side effects of taking such medications together can include dizziness, damage to the kidneys and complications with the functioning of the heart.
Undertaking the biggest study of its kind, the researchers followed the progress of 1,280 elderly people for eight weeks after they were discharged from hospital. They discovered that 37 per cent of this sample group came under the banner of medication harm and 81 per cent of those were considered serious cases.
As part of the study, the researchers calculated how much medication harm is costing the NHS and came to the figure of £400 million. This is mainly due to patients being readmitted to hospital to be treated for the resulting health difficulties. As it was found that 52 per cent of the side effects could have been prevented, this is an issue that needs to be tackled.
Dr Nikesh Parekh, clinical research fellow in geriatrics at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, told the Daily Mail: “There was a time when medicines were used symptomatically. But we’ve moved into an era of chronic use of medicines without strong evidence of benefit.
“The average patient in our cohort was on nine medicines. That’s significant. We don’t know how these are all interacting with each other. But we do know that over an eight-week period following hospital discharge, this is causing one in three harm.”
While the fact that four of the people in the study, with an average age of 82, died is a sobering thought, the problem does not just lie with the number of prescriptions being handed out. The research discovered that 11 per cent of the incidents were the result of patients not taking the medications as advised.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said: “Modern medicines bring huge benefits and are essential in helping people stay well. However this report is also a shocking reminder that medication needs to be carefully managed, especially when someone is taking several different ones.”
Medication is an area that needs to be closely monitored in the elderly. Relatives who are concerned about the number of tablets their parents or grandparents are taking should talk to the patient’s GP, while there are also dedicated staff at care homes who have the responsibility to ensure that pills are being taken at the right time.
It can be confusing for many older people to keep track of their own medicines, so it’s vitally important that systems are put in place to ensure no complications occur. A move planned by the Department of Health and Social Care could see clinical pharmacists deployed to GP surgeries and care homes to help improve the safety of medication.