Medication Nonadherence – an Issue Impacting Health, Especially Older People

Poor medication adherence claims an estimated 125,000 lives a year. Poor medication management is common for those receiving long-term health care at home and even in some facilities. Families should pay particular attention to making sure loved ones take their meds correctly.

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Medication Nonadherence – an Issue Impacting Health, Especially Older People
5 Min Read June 15th, 2018 Updated:February 19th, 2022

Poor medication adherence claims an estimated 125,000 lives a year and is a $300-billion problem in the United States. This doesn’t count those impacted by long-term health care and complications related to extended care. 

Yet, despite being a problem that is this big, it is getting little attention. Complicating this issue is the sheer volume of medications used today in health care. The problem increases with aging and longevity as older adults usually have several comorbidities and multiple medications to treat those conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that non-adherence causes 30 to 50 percent of chronic disease treatment failures in addition to the 125,000 deaths per year in the USA alone. 

Twenty-five to 50 percent of patients treated with statins (cholesterol-lowering medications) stop their medication within one year. Those who do stop taking their cholesterol medications increase their risk of dying by 25%. Other complications, like strokes, also occur, which will cause extended long-term health care.

Statistically speaking: The problem of not taking medicine as prescribed

  • 20 to 30 percent of new prescriptions are never filled at the pharmacy.
  • Medication is not taken as prescribed 50 percent of the time.
  • For patients prescribed drugs for chronic diseases, most take less medication than prescribed or stop the medication altogether after six months.
  • Only 51 percent of patients taking medications for high blood pressure continue taking their medication during their long-term treatment.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

People with Chronic Health Problems at Greater Risk

Roughly 80% of older Americans have at least one chronic condition, and more than three-fourths have at least two. That makes for countless doctor appointments, trips to the drug store, and prescription drug claims sent to the insurance company -- but, until recently, there was no legislative framework for proper communication between these settings.

People don’t take medications for many reasons, including difficulty juggling multiple medications, forgetfulness, and the cost. Some people take drugs when they remember or if they “feel like they should.”

The FDA offers several tips that can help you or an older family member remember to take medication regularly. Some of these tips include:

  • Take the medication at the same time every day.
  • Tie taking your medications with a daily routine like brushing your teeth or getting ready for bed. Before choosing mealtime for your routine, check to see if your prescription needs to be taken on a full or empty stomach.
  • Keep a “medicine calendar” with your pill bottles and note each time you take a dose.

Read all the tips from the FDA here - Why You Need to Take Your Medications as Prescribed or Instructed | FDA.

“However, to help you get the best results from your medications taking your medicine as instructed is very important,” says Kimberly DeFronzo, R.Ph., M.S., M.B.A., a Consumer Safety Officer in FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Taking Medications Properly is Essential for Better Health

Taking medicines as prescribed or “medication adherence” is key to controlling chronic conditions, treating a temporary condition, and general long-term health and well-being. The FDA says having a personal connection with a health care provider or pharmacist is necessary for medication adherence.

“Because your pharmacist is an expert in medications, they can help suggest how best to take your medications,” says DeFronzo.

For older people, this can be more difficult. If they have informal caregivers, they may not take all their medications correctly. Many long-term care situations are handled by untrained family caregivers. Family caregivers are untrained and unprepared for this demanding job.

Caregiving is hard enough on family members, but remembering medications can be just as hard on them as it is on the older person. Even in assisted living, some residents require “medication management” to ensure their medications are taken on time.

Medication Management

Another problem for older individuals in long-term care situations is that adverse drug reactions are common. The majority of residents in an assisted living facility, memory care facility, or a nursing home will take numerous drugs every day. 

For example, an average nursing home resident takes eight regularly scheduled medications—and more than 60% take more than nine. That is a large number of drugs, possible side-effects, and adverse health situations for failure to take the medications correctly.

Quality Caregivers Help Maintain Proper Medication Management

Many families want their loved ones to be taken care of by quality caregivers, either at home or in a facility. Quality professional caregivers are costly, even in-home caregivers. The costs of all long-term health care services are rising rapidly due to increasing demand, high labor costs, and inflation. 

The LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator shows the current and future costs of care where you live. These costs vary depending on your location and the type of care needed - Cost of Care Calculator - Choose Your State | LTC News.

Long-Term Care Insurance will help provide the guaranteed tax-free resources to help you, when the time comes, get quality care in the setting you desire. This help includes making sure you take medications correctly. 

You might not think this is a significant concern if you are in your 40s or 50s, but additional health issues will often lead to long-term health care as you get older.

LTC Insurance - Vital Part of Retirement Plan

Consider Long-Term Care Insurance before you retire and take advantage of much lower premiums and even, perhaps, qualifying for preferred health discounts. Your health can change at any moment. The time to develop your plan for the financial costs and burdens of aging should be put in place before retirement.

Long-Term Care Insurance is Easy and Affordable asset protection. However, it does more than just pay for care. It reduces the heavy burdens placed on loved ones and gives them the time to be family instead of caregivers.

Meanwhile, take your medications correctly, no matter your age. Help older family members develop a plan to remember to take their meds correctly. 

Financial Help with Prescription Drug Costs

If you or a family member requires financial assistance with prescription drug costs, the Partnership for Prescription Assistance can be helpful - Medicine Assistance Tool.


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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

Editor's Note

Being prepared for declining health and the consequences of aging should be a crucial part of your overall retirement plan. People need long-term care services due to an illness, accident, or the impact of aging. Health insurance and Medicare (including supplements) will not pay for most of these costs.

Family caregivers find it hard to juggle their careers and family responsibilities with that of a caregiver for an older parent. The burden is something most people have said in surveys that they don't want to place on their family.

The solution is affordable Long-Term Care Insurance. LTC Insurance provides guaranteed tax-free benefits to access your choice of quality care options, including care at home. You will protect your income and assets and reduce the stress and anxiety otherwise placed on loved ones.

Resources on LTC NEWS

You can find many tools and resources on LTC NEWS to assist you in your research for a planning solution or help your family find the appropriate care for a loved one at the time of crisis. 

To help you plan the costs and burdens of changing health and aging, LTC NEWS has put in place several resources, including:

Find all the resources on LTC NEWS - Resources for Long-Term Care Planning | LTC News.

Seek Professional Guidance

Insurance rates are regulated, so no insurance agent, agency, or financial advisor can give you special deals. However, insurance companies' premiums vary over 100% for the same coverage.

Experts suggest using a qualified Long-Term Care Insurance specialist to help you navigate the many options available to you and your family.

A specialist who works with the top companies can match your age, health, family history, and other factors and find you the best coverage at the best value. A specialist will save you money, and you will have peace of mind knowing they are making the appropriate recommendations - Work With a Specialist | LTC News.

Finding Quality Care for Mom or Dad

Start by reading our four guides -  

If they are lucky enough to own a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, be sure they use it. Sometimes families wait, thinking they can save the benefits for a rainy day. Waiting on using available Long-Term Care Insurance benefits is not a wise idea. 

Get Help in Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim

Quality care obtained early will help provide a better quality of life and reduce the risk of a deep decline and facility care. If you need help in starting the process of a Long-Term Care Insurance claim, LTC NEWS can help.

LTC NEWS provides free assistance with no obligation to help you or a loved one complete the claims process with a Long-Term Care Insurance policy. We have teamed up with Amada Senior Care, who will do all the work, free with no obligation. 

You can also get support in finding quality caregivers and get recommendations for a proper care plan, whether a person has a policy or not. - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim | LTC News

Benefits of Reverse Mortgages 

Today's reverse mortgages for those aged 62 and older could be an ideal resource to fund a Long-Term Care Insurance policy OR even provide money to pay for care if you, or a loved one, already needs help and assistance.  

Some people have much of their savings invested in their homes. With today's reverse mortgages, you can find ways to fund care solutions, care itself, even help with cash flow during your retirement. 

Learn more by asking questions to an expert. LTC NEWS columnist and host of the TV Show "62 Who Knew" will answer your questions regarding caregiving, aging, health, retirement planning, long-term care, and reverse mortgages. 

- Just "Ask Mike." - Reverse Mortgages | LTC News.

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