Medication Overload, Polypharmacy and Me

Medication Overload, Polypharmacy and Me

A critical issue for older adults is the hidden drug problem of medication overload, also known as polypharmacy.  This refers to when individuals use multiple medications and the harm, or potential harm of taking the medications outweighs the benefits. Harm increases with the number of medications taken. “Getting medications right is essential because when your medication is wrong, your mental activity can be off, your mobility can be compromised, and what matters to you will not be front and center.[i]

What is Polypharmacy?

Polypharmacy is typically defined as taking five or more medications at the same time. Over 40% of seniors are taking five or more prescriptions daily. 20% of seniors take ten or more medications and those with multiple medical conditions may be taking even more than that.

Why is Polypharmacy a concern?

As individuals age, there is a decline or weakening in organ function over time. This means that older individuals, especially those with acute or chronic conditions do not process the medication as quickly, as well, or readily. This places the individual at greater risk of side effects. Cognitive impairment and osteoporosis are two common serious side effects of polypharmacy. When these individuals fall they are more likely to suffer a hip fracture than younger individuals[ii].

“Medication overload will contribute to the premature deaths of 150,000 older Americans over the next decade and reduce the quality of life for millions more.[iii]

How Can I Lower my Risk of Polypharmacy?

  • Keep a complete written record of all medications taken, that includes supplements, vitamins and any over-the-counter medications
  • Review the at each provider visit, be sure to ask if you really need to be taking all the medications, ask if there are drug interactions between any of the medications that you are taking
  • Fill prescriptions at one pharmacy so that you can your pharmacist has a complete record of all the medications and can intercede with providers if any prescription red flags surface. Be sure to share all the supplements, vitamins and any over-the-counter medications
  • Participate in “Brown Bag” medication sessions where you take all of your medications and your supplements, vitamins and any over-the-counter medications and sit with a pharmacist to have a review of what you are taking for side effects and over medication

Polypharmacy is Under Recognized

Medication overload or polypharmacy is the drug problem that is not getting headlines; it is a serious and growing issue impacting the aging populous. Protect yourself and be proactive in minimizing your risks. This problem cannot be ignored as implications to you are high.


[i] The Hidden Drug Problem of Older Adults: Medication Overload

[ii] Medication Overload: How the drive to prescribe is harming older Americans

[iii] Solving Medication Overload: America’s Other Drug Problem

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