There are over 57,000 seniors living in the Okanagan region spanning from OK Falls to Lake Country. Many of them are struggling to properly manage their medications. (File photo)

Okanagan seniors misusing meds needs to be addressed: seniors care expert

Mismanaging medications often has dire consequences for Canadian seniors, study shows.

We all know the importance of talking to our children about the dangers of drug abuse, but what about our parents?

According to a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, over 65 per cent of Canadians over the age of 65 are juggling five or more different prescription drugs.

With multiple doctors and specialists, a variety of dosage instructions, and coordinating refill schedules, managing a medication regimen can be daunting. If not handled correctly, it can lead to devastating consequences.

There are over 57,000 seniors living in the Okanagan region spanning from OK Falls to Lake Country. Many are struggling to properly manage their medications, according to local seniors care experts.

“It (drug misuse) is an area that we see going sideways on a pretty frequent basis,” said Janine Karlsen, owner of Kelowna-based seniors care service Home Instead.

Karlsen’s company provides in-home care for seniors in Kelowna and Penticton. The amount of seniors misusing their medications is alarming, she said.

The main issues Karlsen sees are seniors taking their meds at the wrong time, or not taking them at all. This, she said, can have dire results.

Seniors who don’t take their medication correctly often face life-threatening risks. Simply taking one medication at the wrong time of day can potentially end in hospitalization.

In 2016, 0.7 per cent of Canadian seniors were hospitalized for an adverse drug reaction. The rate of hospitalization dramatically increased among seniors taking multiple medications.

Narcotic prescriptions can be especially problematic, explained Karlsen.Many seniors refuse to take them at all and live in constant pain, while others who use pain management medication inevitably develop a tolerance and become physically dependant.

“We see both and both are really bad for all aspects of their life,” she said.

”If your pain isn’t managed you’ve got all these issues, but then if you’re addicted, your judgment could be off so then taking medications is even more difficult.”

The busy modern world can correlate with a busier schedule, which sometimes translates to people not having time to care for the seniors in their lives. People often want to do more for seniors but can’t find the time to fit it in to their busy schedules, Karlsen explained. However, something as simple as talking to the seniors in your life about their medications can have a life-changing impact.

She recommends these steps to ensure seniors don’t succumb to the perils of medication misuse:

  • Have a family member accompany a senior to the doctor to ask questions and ensure that they understand all the medications they are prescribed and why.
  • Create a list of current prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and any vitamins a senior is taking. Share this list with all medical professionals involved in the senior’s care and keep it updated with any changes.
  • Be on the lookout for any red flags, such as a full pill bottle, which may mean the medication is not being taken. If this does occur, or you have any other concerns about your senior’s medication regimen, contact their doctor.
  • Use a multi-dose blister pack to organize medications. Pharmacies will dose prescriptions into blister packs for free.
  • Ensure seniors know why they are taking a certain medication.

READ MORE: Still too many B.C. seniors in care facilities, or at home on drugs

Sometimes seniors may insist on not taking their medication. If this occurs, Karlsen recommends finding out why they insist on not taking their medication. Often, it may be because they simply don’t know the purpose of the medication, and will start taking it if someone explains it to them.

Other times seniors may not want to take their medication for more complex reasons, such as a friend passing away soon after starting the same medication or feeling “old” because of the medication. Karlsen said that talking to seniors about the importance of their medication then becomes imperative.

“You want to talk to them about why it’s important and what would be the negative consequences if they didn’t take the medication. Some people might be willing tot take it because they don’t want to end up back in the hospital.”

Karlsen explained that letting seniors know how important their health is to you is often the most important part.

“To say ‘I worry about you and I really want you to be here and as well as possible and so if you choose to take your medication I’m also going to feel better. So that I’m just not so worried about you.’”

Above all else, when talking to seniors about medications, Karlsen believes respect is imperative.

“Sometimes it’s easy for people to be a little patronizing or condescending, but seniors are fully autonomous human beings that have done an amazing amount of things in their lives and it’s important for us to keep that in mind,” said Karlsen.

READ MORE: Youth filmmakers showcase senior stars in “Seniors Got Talent” series

To report a typo, email: [email protected].


Jesse Day
Reporter, Penticton Western News
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