The role of the pharmacist in senior care

By Susan C. Jenkins

Seniors make up about 12 per cent of the Canadian population, but they receive between 28- and 40 per cent of all prescribed medications. About two-thirds of seniors take five or more prescription drugs each year, and a quarter take ten or more. Because seniors are likely to be taking multiple medications and because aging changes the way our bodies respond to the drugs we take, there is a potential for serious medication problems in older people.

 


As the medication experts on the healthcare team, pharmacists are perfectly positioned to work with patients, their doctors, and their caregivers to prevent medication problems and help people manage their health and get the most benefit from their medicines. As Varsha Patel, a clinical consultant pharmacist with Medical Pharmacies Group Limited, explains: “We identify areas of potential risk, evaluate the situation, and work with patients, caregivers, and other members of the healthcare team to resolve any problems. We also practice the fine art of deprescribing—we assess patients’ drug therapy and look for medications that may no longer be of benefit and evaluate how best to simplify the treatment plan while maintaining quality of life.”

 

Some people mistakenly think that all pharmacists do is transfer medicines from large bottles into small bottles and put a label on them. The truth is that they do so much more. Did you know that pharmacists provide these important services?

  • Monitoring prescriptions for possible drug interactions: If you see more than one doctor—for example, a family physician and one or more specialists—the drug one doctor prescribes may interact with a drug prescribed by another doctor. Pharmacists check for possible interactions before they fill a new prescription.
  • Telling you about your medicines: It is important to know what each medicine is supposed to do, what possible side effects to watch out for, and what to do if they occur.
  • Explaining how to take your medications properly: Some drugs need to be taken on an empty stomach; others must be taken with food. Some foods and beverages can interfere with how certain drugs work. Some tablets shouldn’t be split or crushed. You also have to be careful with nonprescription drugs and herbal supplements. Don’t assume that because something is “natural” that it’s “safe”—poison ivy and toadstools are “natural” but certainly not safe. Pharmacists can help with all of this.
  • Adapting packaging to your needs: Pharmacists can put your medicines in easy-to-open containers and use larger labels that are easier to read. They can also package your medicines in individual doses to make it easier to keep track of what to take and when to take it.
  • Changing the flavour of a medicine: Some liquid medicines taste bad, and that can make someone reluctant to take them. In some cases, a pharmacist can change the taste of a drug to reduce the likelihood that someone will skip a dose.

 

Varsha Patel’s tips

  • Don’t stop taking a medication without checking with your doctor or pharmacist first. Some medicines should not be stopped suddenly and must be tapered off.
  • Know what to do if you miss a dose. Don’t just double up when your next dose is due. Each medicine is different. Your pharmacist can tell you how to handle a missed dose.
  • Never take a medication that was prescribed for someone else or share your medicines with anyone. Different conditions can cause the same symptoms, and taking the wrong medicine can make the situation worse.
  • If you have any questions about your medicines or about medicines prescribed for someone in your care, talk to your pharmacist.

Susan C. Jenkins is a freelance writer and editor specializing in medicine, pharmacy, and healthcare. She can be reached at susancjenkins@gmail.com.