Pill popping pandemic

Medicines do a lot to improve health and save lives, but they are easily overused which creates different problems.

Ageing Well is doing a study into problems with taking too many drugs, especially by the elderly, although pills can be dished out in big dollops to children too which is another concern.

We have a bit of ill popping popping pandemic, where long term multiple prescription drugs can cause more problems than they resolve.

I’ve seen this happening when my step-father was first put into hospital care after his health had deteriorated quite quickly. After a while doctors reviewed all the pills he was popping and reduced them significantly. His health improved significantly as a result.

So Ageing Well is studying this and setting up a database of elderly patients.

One News reported: Too many pills pushing NZ’s elderly into care prematurely

A new push is underway to tackle the growing concern of our elderly being forced into care prematurely due to their pills.

International studies show 15 to 20 per cent of hospitalisations among older patients are caused by either the side effects of their drugs or overmedication.

“As you get older you tend to accumulate more long-term medications and they kind of build-up,” says Canterbury DHB geriatrician Dr Nigel Millar.

“Each one has a good reason behind it, but every so often you’ve got to think is this the right mix of medications?”

Now, as part of the government’s Ageing Well National Science Challenge, Otago University has launched a study to test a new electronic monitoring system, to see if it can accurately predict which elderly patients are most at risk.

Elderly are commonly on multiple medications that all have numerous potential side effects and it’s often difficult to monitor each drugs’ effectiveness and the outcomes of those medicines interacting.”

The study is comparing patient outcomes on a world-leading Ministry of Health database of 80,000 elderly patients’ health information, with results from a newly-developed electronic measure called the Drug Burden index or DBI.

Details from Ageing Well: Drug Burden Index

Medications clearly have benefits for patients. However, all medications have side effects.   Commonly now many patients are on multiple medications.

The side effects of medications can lead to falls, fractures and potentially early admission into aged residential care. It is hard for health professionals to take into the account of all the side effects of medications.

To deal with this a new scale has been developed call the drug burden index (DBI). This scale adds up the side effects of medications and presents it in a way that is easily interpretable to health professionals.

This study assesses if the drug burden index predicts adverse effects (such as falls and fractures) after taking into account other comorbidities that older people may have (such as poor mobility and reduced memory).

The study will also have strong links with other research in the National Science Challenge and will assess if high amounts of medications are associated with loneliness, social isolation and depression.

Further detail:  Drug Burden Index