The Top 6 Reasons Elderly People Don’t Take Medication

Aug 19, 2014 3 min
forgot to take medicine

By not adhering to an often complex combination of treatments, patients can unwittingly expose themselves to a number of health risks.

Compliance, or adherence, to a medication regime can prove to be a problem for your elderly loved one, for a variety of reasons. But when elderly people don’t take medication that has been prescribed to them, problems can arise for both their long-term and short-term health.

Consciously deviating from the medication scheme

There are three main reasons for consciously deciding not to take certain medication:

1. Perception of negative effects

Many people don’t think that the drug works, especially for preventive treatments. For instance, a daily dose of an anti-platelet drug that prevents blood clots won’t have an immediate positive impact on their health, and it’s easy to underestimate the longer term benefit the drug provides.

Furthermore, if the drug in question causes negative side effects, it’s likely the drug will be perceived as more damaging than beneficial.

2. Fear of addiction

Certain drugs, especially anti-depressants, have a reputation for being addictive. As they are normally prescribed over a long period of time, it’s often thought that a person can become totally dependent on the medication and struggle when the treatment stops. This is not actually the case.

But these elements could cause your loved one to stop taking their medication regularly, as they fear they may become addicted. Whilst antidepressants are not known to have any addictive potential, rapidly stopping antidepressants can cause unpleasant side effects, which may be mistaken for withdrawal.

3. Cost

For many patients, certain treatments aren’t easily affordable. In the UK this effect is less pronounced because of lower NHS prescription costs, but nonetheless, affordability can have a negative impact on compliance.

Unconsciously deviating from the medication scheme

The effects of complex medication regimes, cognitive decline and depression often have an impact on taking medication regularly.

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1. Complex medication regimes

Your elderly relative will typically require more complex medication schedules as the number of long-term conditions they have is likely to increase with age.

This can cause problems relating to the intervals and timings of the medication. Not only can this be confusing, but they can also grow tired of their daily routine being dominated by constant interruptions.

2. Cognitive decline

Cognitive decline, which may range from mild cognitive impairment to full dementia can affect short-term memory. In the UK there are approximately 3 million people with mild cognitive impairment and forgetfulness is often the most common symptom. This can lead to:

  • Forgetting if they’ve taken their medication
  • Forgetting why they’re supposed to take their medication
  • Taking too much or too little of their medication

3. Depression

Depression, low mood and anxiety can also affect activities relating to daily routines. Lack of motivation, preoccupations, tension and social withdrawal are common behaviours. It is well recognised that depression is less commonly reported in older people for a variety of reasons such as stoicism and social isolation. However, lack of motivation can lead to a loss of interest in maintaining health and medication can be ‘forgotten’.

How do you avoid these issues?

The solution has to be tailored to the cause. If a person chooses not to take a medication due to a seemingly irrational belief, the best course of action may be to change treatment so that the perceptions can be addressed.

Dealing with such a large number of medications can be a daunting task for families, and to provide a tailored solution the GP and the patient will need to work together. It can be helpful to prepare a list of problems and document which medications have been causing the most problems, so that the doctor can be well informed during a brief consultation.

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When the cause is the complexity of treatment and cognitive state of the individual, prompts or assisted living aids can help. For instance, using a printed version of the medication combined with dosette boxes in a daily routine is one way of preventing mistakes and forgetting certain doses.

If depression is the cause and the person is failing to take antidepressants, it can be helpful to think of other approaches to improving moods, such as gentle exercise or regular social contact.

Find out more:

If your loved one is struggling to stay on top of their medication routine, then HomeTouch can help. HomeTouch is an introductory agency, helping you to find the best self-employed carers in your local area. A carer can make a huge difference to your loved one’s life, providing practical help around the house, companionship, or specialist nursing care. Whatever your loved one’s needs, we can help you find the care you require.

Dr Jamie WilsonFounder and Chief Medical Officer at Hometouch

Dr Jamie Wilson is hometouch’s founder and Chief Medical Officer. Jamie’s creation of hometouch was inspired by his work as a dementia psychiatrist in the NHS, and he has written about healthcare issues in The Times and the Evening Standard. Jamie has a MBBS from the University of Leeds and has spent a decade in the NHS, working as a Psychiatric Registrar and Memory Specialist at Imperial College Hospital.

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