Falls in Older Adults: An Untold Toll of Medication Nonadherence

Older adults take prescribed medications more than any other age group in the United States. Researchers estimate that 25% of…

Older adults take prescribed medications more than any other age group in the United States. Researchers estimate that 25% of people ages 65 to 69 take at least five prescriptions to treat chronic conditions. That figure jumps to nearly 46% for those between 70 and 79.

The importance of taking these medicines correctly cannot be overstated, as a staggering 50% of medications for chronic disease are not taken as prescribed.  This lack of adherence contributes to over $500 billion in avoidable healthcare costs and more than 125,000 potentially preventable deaths each year.

But there’s another concerning impact of medication nonadherence among older adults – one that is often overlooked and underestimated in terms of impact. Research shows that when older adults do not take their prescriptions as directed, they also increase their chances of falling.

A Common and Costly Challenge

Every second of every day, an older adult (age 65+) suffers a fall in the U.S. – making falls the leading cause of injury and injury death in this age group. Falls can also lead to head injuries, broken bones, and other serious issues. About 3 million older adults are treated in emergency departments for a fall injury each year. These hospitalizations are often devastating for older adults and their families; they are also a significant source of lost revenue for home health providers.

Health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and arthritis that affect balance, physical strength, joint integrity, and/or cognitive function contribute to falls among older adults. But medication errors and side effects are also considered a leading cause. Recent research has shown that fall risk increases by 21 percent in older adults taking five or more medications; this increases to 50 percent in patients taking 10 or more medications. Medication errors and certain types of medications contribute to these high fall rates. For example, certain drugs (e.g., sedatives and anti-depressants) reduce mental alertness, affect balance and gait, and cause drops in systolic blood pressure while standing.

‘An Ounce of Prevention…’

Falls are common, but they can be prevented. Providing enhanced medication management support and regular medication reviews are crucial to decrease the likelihood of older adults experiencing falls and reduce the risk of medication-related hospitalizations. With most seniors taking multiple medications throughout the day, it can be easy for mix-ups to happen. Older adults with chronic conditions often see numerous physicians and go to different pharmacies to fill their prescriptions. They also tend to keep their pills bottles placed in various locations around the home, significantly increasing the chance for medication nonadherence and adverse health outcomes.

The problem is even more acute during care transitions – when seniors transfer from a care facility and back to the home. All too often, treatment plan details get lost in transition, follow-up appointments are missed, and the resulting medication nonadherence leads to patient dissatisfaction or, most importantly, unnecessary readmissions.

Patients and their families often call upon home health providers to help manage the complex medication routines common in elderly patients. And while many home health providers are experts in building relationships and providing much needed assistance in multiple areas of life, few are licensed pharmacists with the training and skills to proactively identify potential medication errors.

A Holistic, Ongoing Approach

High-risk patients with complex medication routines and known medication adherence issues need regular touchpoints with a licensed pharmacist to ensure that they continue taking their medications as prescribed.

Establishing strong partnerships with digital pharmacy experts can significantly increase success for home health providers and their patients. Outsourcing the effort ensures that patients have access to highly trained pharmacy professionals with the technology and experience to enact measurable, sustainable change among target populations.

Taking this idea one step further, AdhereRx, proactively leverages various strategies to identify and address complex medication management challenges to prevent nonadherence and identify potential drug safety problems, such as medication synchronization (med sync) and compliance packaging, which enables patients to refill all their medications, packaged by dose date and time, on the same day each month.

AdhereRx can also deliver prescriptions to patient homes via private courier in customized compliance packaging, which puts pills in easy-to-understand blister or dosage strips sorted by dose date and time. In addition, AdhereHealth’s digital pharmacy teams provide comprehensive medication and drug utilization reviews to prevent medication dosing errors or potentially severe drug interactions.

By investing in pharmacy-led outreach and member engagement, home health agencies can prevent medication-related complications, such as falls and other patient injuries, and keep their patients safe and healthy at home.

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