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New study helps determine which older adults might need help taking medications

American Geriatrics Society

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IMAGE: This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society... view more

Credit: (C) 2016, The Health in Aging Foundation

As age increases, older adults can develop problems taking their medications. But until now, few studies have examined the traits that might cause elders to need help with their medications, or how widespread a problem this might be.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers investigated this issue using data from the 10-year Duke EPESE study. They examined data from 4,106 African American and white older adults living in five counties in North Carolina.

The researchers asked the participants the question, "Are you able to take your medicine without help (in the right doses at the right time)?" The participants' health conditions included: poor vision, poor hearing, or having been diagnosed with stroke, diabetes, hypertension (also known as high blood pressure), heart attack, or cancer (except skin cancer).

The researchers also tested the participants' mental abilities and reviewed their medication containers to learn how many prescription and over-the-counter medications they took.

At the beginning of the study, 7.1 percent of participants needed help taking their medications. Three years later, 11 percent needed help who did not need help at the beginning of the study. Predictors of a new need for medication help were similar to those seen at the beginning of the study:

  • Being 75-years-old or older
  • Being male
  • Having memory problems
  • Having problems performing activities of daily living

The researchers reported that people aged 80 and older were 1.5 to 3 times as likely to need help with their medications than were people aged 65 to 69.

Men were 1.5 to 2 times as likely as women to need help. The odds of needing help were 3 to 5 times greater among people with memory challenges.

"Health conditions may worsen or not improve if older adults skip or don't take their medications properly," said Brenda D. Jamerson, PharmD, Center on Biobehavioral Health Disparities Research at Duke University. "Serious side effects may also occur from taking medications at the wrong time or in the wrong dose. Some older adults can put themselves at risk for experiencing problems if they don't receive the assistance they may need," added Dr. Jamerson.

The researchers noted their study helped identify which characteristics make it more likely that an older adult will need help taking his or her medication.

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This summary is from "A New Method of Identifying Characteristics of Needing Help to Take Medications in an Older Representative Community-Resident Population: The Older Adults Medication Assist Scale". It appears online ahead of print in the June 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are: Brenda D. Jamerson, PharmD; Gerda G. Fillenbaum, PhD; Richard Sloane, MPH; and Miriam C. Morey, PhD.

About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through HealthinAging.org. We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit http://www.HealthinAgingFoundation.org.

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