Understanding Polypharmacy in Older Adults to Protect Your Loved Ones


Older adults need to maintain good health to live a satisfying post-retirement life. And medications often play a huge role in maintaining the overall well-being of our older loved ones.

Older individuals may sometimes fall ill; when this happens, they usually visit a medical professional. When they go to the hospital, the chances are that they will leave the doctor’s office with a prescription list of drugs to treat their health issues.

Taking these several medications simultaneously – known as polypharmacy – seems like standard practice when one is ill and is not necessarily a bad practice from a standalone perspective. However, it is essential to understand its intricacies to know when it poses a risk to your older loved one’s health.

At Season Retirement, the wellness of our residents is our utmost priority. To ensure the safe use of medicines in Seasons communities, we encourage residents to consult with pharmacists to discuss medications using e-MAR.

This article will delve into the world of pharmacy and drug use, explaining polypharmacy’s meaning, why older adults use multiple medications, and the risks it poses to their health.

What is Polypharmacy?

At this point, several readers may still be asking, “what is polypharmacy?”

Polypharmacy is a medical term that encompasses the simultaneous use of multiple medications by the same person. From this definition, you would notice that there is no clear indication of the specific number of drugs that constitute polypharmacy – and that’s because it is not a figure set in stone.

That being said, a person on many different drugs at a time is likely dealing with more than one medical condition or trying to avoid specific health issues. Although such an individual can be of any age, polypharmacy is more common among older adults.

Research shows that certain medicines can prevent illnesses and treat some medical conditions. For instance, statins have been found to decrease the risk of developing a heart attack. As a result, these cholesterol-reducing medicines are recommended for everybody below and above 70, even if their cholesterol levels are normal.

Medicines are chemical substances taken to elicit a physiological response in the body. While the desirable effect of drug use is usually positive, chemical substances can sometimes induce unwanted reactions. As such, the benefits and potential adverse effects of medicines are part of the complicated public stance on polypharmacy in older adults.

When medical doctors prescribe medicines to older or younger people, they ensure that the benefits far outweigh the potential risks. However, it can be challenging to predict the adverse effects of some drugs and how they will affect an individual. It becomes even more challenging when the person is taking several medications simultaneously.

Moreover, drugs interact with each other when taken together. Hence, a particular medication may become ineffective, less effective, or even harmful when taken with another pill.

In any case, while polypharmacy provides a solution for older people dealing with different medical conditions, it could also negatively impact their overall well-being.

4 Reasons Polypharmacy is Common in Older Adults

Let’s have a look at the reasons why it is a more common occurrence among older people:

1.    Chronic illnesses

Older adults dealing with long-term illnesses can still enjoy their post-retirement life. However, they may require a proper treatment regimen, including surgery, physical therapy, psychological therapy, medication, etc., to carry out their daily activities conveniently.

Medication use remains one of the most common treatment solutions for older people with health issues. And they may need to use multiple medications simultaneously, especially if they are dealing with more than one long-term illness.

2.    Multiple prescribers

Some older adults engage in polypharmacy because of the several numbers of health professionals they see within a short period.

As your parents or grandparents visit various specialists, they will likely get new, different prescriptions and recommendations from these professionals, especially if the medical practitioners are unaware that they are seeing other healthcare professionals.

3.    Poor medication reconciliation

Medication reconciliation correlates a comprehensive list of all personal medications taken by an individual to their medication orders.

Ordinarily, medication reconciliation doesn’t increase the number of drugs an older adult uses. However, when the process is carried out wrongly, it can cause medicines to remain a part of a regimen longer than necessary.

Medication reconciliation is an essential process that must be carried out at every medical appointment and transition point of care to ensure that older adults use the correct dose of the right medicine at the appropriate time.

4.    Lack of deprescribing

One of the aims of medication reconciliation is deprescribing. When there is poor medication reconciliation and an absence of deprescribing, the precise windows to gradually reduce or stop the use of certain drugs are missed, resulting in continued polypharmacy.

3 Risks of Polypharmacy in Older Adults

What are the risks of polypharmacy in older adults? Below are the problems of being on multiple medications or failing to remove certain drugs from a medication regimen before taking another medicine.

1.    Poor medication management

With an increase in the number of medicines they need, older people may find it challenging to keep up with medication management. They are more likely to experience adverse drug reactions, overdoses, missed doses, and so on.

2.    Drug interaction

As earlier said, drugs are chemical substances. Hence, it shouldn’t be a surprise that different medicines interact with one another.

That being said, this interaction may sometimes alter the course of action of certain drugs, resulting in reduced effectiveness or even cause adverse reactions in older adults.

3.    Drug overdose

Drug overdose can occur when an older person using multiple medical professionals gets another drug prescription for a medication that they are already using. This is more common when healthcare professionals do not have an up-to-date version of the individual’s medical record.


Indeed, pharmaceutical products are chemical substances produced to induce a positive physiological effect in the body. However, just as it has excellent advantages, drugs also have some downsides, especially when misused. Understanding the concept of polypharmacy and taking steps to ensure it is minimized when possible is a good practice for adults of all ages. At Seasons, we partner with CareRX to provide accurate, effective, safe medication services to our residents.

Discover Life at Seasons. Book a Personal Visit Today.