Multiple prescriptions confuse the elderly

By Sheryl Kay • Published: June 21st, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s no secret that as we age our bodies change, often requiring us to add new medications and supplements as part of our daily routine.

But here’s the problem: just as our advancing ages cause us to need different types of medications, we also begin to remember less, especially minute details. And for some, retaining information about several different pills to be taken at numerous times during the day can become quite a daunting task.

A study recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that even for highly educated senior citizens, the expectation that they will be able to take different medications at various times during the day is simply untenable.

More than four-hundred-and-sixty volunteers over age sixty-three were recruited for the study. All of the volunteers were given hypothetical prescription medications, and they were then asked to organize the twenty-one pills by placing them in a box with twenty-four compartments representing the hours of the day. This approach is meant to ensure that patients take the right pills at the right times throughout the day.

While the boxes were set up for the pills to be consolidated into only four time slots, almost all of the patients were confused by the wording of the prescriptions. Many of them organized the pills on their own into as many as fourteen different time slots per day. In all, only fifteen percent of the volunteers followed the prescriptions exactly as intended and filled their boxes properly, while the rest were clearly set to over-medicate themselves.

The average senior citizen manages about twenty prescriptions a year, so the researchers say it is crucial to improve and simplify drug labels.

Anyone who has ever struggled to make sense of a medicine label would likely agree.