6 Surprising Reasons Older Adults Struggle to Take Their Medications
Are you worried about your next doctor’s appointment because you fear the dreaded question, “Are you still taking your medication?” If so, you’re not alone.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, medication is not taken as prescribed an alarming 50 percent of the time. Additionally, patients who have been prescribed medications for chronic diseases—of which senior patients typically have one or more—either take less medication than prescribed or stop the medication altogether after six months.
It begs the question: Why aren’t we taking our meds? Well, there are a number of reasons. After all, not everyone has the same access to healthcare or reliable transportation to pick up a prescription at their local pharmacy. Further, many elderly patients living on a fixed income cannot often afford the pricey medications required to combat certain chronic diseases like diabetes. What’s worse, over 30 million Americans are still uninsured today.
Let’s discuss some of the lesser-known reasons elderly patients stop (or never start) taking their medication as prescribed by their doctor.
6 Lesser-Known Reasons for Medication Non-adherence in Older Adults
One of the biggest barriers to medication adherence in older adults is simply that they cannot afford their medications. Many elderly adults live exclusively on Social Security and suffer from multiple chronic conditions that require multiple and often costly medications, leaving them to prioritize which medications they can reasonably afford without sacrificing their next meal or rent payment. Additionally, in an effort to ration, they may not take their meds as often as prescribed, leading to other challenges in their treatment.
Healthcare Inequity and Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)
In addition to many patients being unable to afford the cost of their medications resulting in non-adherence, rampant healthcare inequities continue to adversely affect the most vulnerable in our communities. Many elderly patients are affected by Social Determinants of Health, such as healthcare access and economic instability, leaving them financially strapped without reliable transportation to attend doctors' appointments, much less to get to a pharmacy for a prescription to be filled or refilled. In many such cases, patients would take the medication—if they only could afford and obtain them.
Cognitive Impairment and Memory Issues
Memory issues can certainly be a barrier to elderly patients taking their medication. With or without cognitive impairment, sometimes, patients simply just forget. Additionally, if they are prescribed a handful of medicines, remembering when and how to take each one can be a real challenge. Using pill boxes labeled with the days of the week and leaning on the help of a trusted friend or family member to set you up for success each week can be helpful to ensure you take your medication as needed.
Lack of Symptoms
Many patients mistakenly believe that they do not need to take a prescription medication if they aren't exhibiting symptoms. Because they may not feel a difference whether they start or stop their medication, they may think it is unnecessary to continue taking it. Other times, patients just “don’t feel like they need” the meds. These are all dangerous misconceptions when you consider that high cholesterol and diabetes often do not present with symptoms until the condition has progressed and poses an immediate risk to the patient. Recognizing that your doctor may have prescribed certain medications to prevent more serious conditions or events from occurring (such as heart attack or stroke) can be a helpful way to stay on track.
Pharmaceutical or Medical Mistrust
A growing mistrust of pharmaceutical companies and the medical industry peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic and lingers today, causing dwindling trust from patients who then do not take their medication as prescribed. Patients who struggle with mistrust that impacts whether they take their medication should discuss their questions and concerns openly with their doctor. Doctors should listen attentively with empathy to work through any uncertainty or fear the patient may have.
Whether a patient has concerns about side effects or a history of opioid abuse that precludes them from taking medication for fear of becoming dependent, there may be a number of different fears around taking any given medication. Patients may have heard from friends or family members who had a negative experience with a particular medication or read disturbing information about the drug online. Like patients struggling with mistrust, you should consider sharing your fears with a trusted medical provider who can share data and factual information to respond to your concerns.
Understanding these barriers and seeking solutions is crucial for your overall health and well-being. If you find yourself struggling with sticking to your medication plan, don't hesitate to discuss your concerns openly with your doctor and rely on their expertise to provide guidance and support. By working together, you can overcome these obstacles and ensure you're receiving the proper care you need to maintain a healthy and fulfilling life.