Pharmacists: Key Allies in Enhancing Health as You Age

If you're over 50, you're probably no stranger to the pharmacy. With age, frequent trips to pick up medications have become a norm. Pharmacists have emerged as crucial members of the health team, playing a significant role in ensuring a better quality of life.

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Pharmacists: Key Allies in Enhancing Health as You Age
6 Min Read March 1st, 2024

Remember when conversations with friends revolved around weekend plans or the latest movie? Now, it seems like gatherings for anyone over 50 often morphs into mini-medical conferences. We swap stories about our latest aches and pains, compare pill bottles, and dissect the intricacies of our ever-growing medication regimens. 

Why the sudden shift? As we age, the number of medications we juggle increases, transforming the once-simple act of popping a pill into a complex dance of remembering names, purposes, and potential interactions. But amidst this intricate choreography, there's a crucial partner: the pharmacist, stepping up as a vital guide on the path to well-being.

As we age, navigating the complexities of health care can become increasingly challenging. Managing multiple medications, understanding potential interactions, and ensuring adherence to treatment plans can feel overwhelming, especially for adults 50 and above. 

Aside from physicians and caregivers, older adults, whether they are aware of it or not, rely heavily on the skills and experience of pharmacists who go beyond monitoring medication intake and prescribing maintenance drugs.

Pharmacists are becoming essential partners in health care, crucial in optimizing medication management and promoting overall well-being for this growing population.

Lots of Drugs - Growing Number of Pharmacists to Meet Growing Aging Population

Across the developed world, the number of licensed pharmacists varies considerably. The United States boasts the highest number at over 327,400, followed by the U.K. with roughly 57,000. Canada has approximately 40,350 pharmacists, while Australia and New Zealand have significantly smaller pools of licensed professionals, with 33,800 and 5,200, respectively. 

Polypharmacy and the Need for Expertise

The term "polypharmacy" refers to the use of five or more medications concurrently. According to a 2022 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, nearly half of the adults aged 65 overuse five or more medications, with the prevalence increasing further in older age groups. This rise in polypharmacy poses several challenges:

  • Increased risk of medication interactions: The potential for interactions and adverse effects rises with multiple medications. Pharmacists can identify and address potential issues with their specialized knowledge of medications and their interactions.
  • Adherence challenges: Managing numerous medications can be difficult, leading to non-adherence. Pharmacists can provide education and strategies to help patients stick to their medication regimens.
  • Increased complexity of medication management: Understanding treatment plans, proper medication use, and potential side effects become more complex with multiple medications. Pharmacists can simplify communication and address medication-related questions.

Beyond Dispensing Medications

The role of pharmacists extends far beyond simply dispensing medications -

  • Medication reviews: Pharmacists can conduct comprehensive medication reviews to identify and manage potential interactions, assess the appropriateness of medications, and ensure optimal therapeutic outcomes.
  • Medication education: They can educate patients about their medications, including their purpose, proper use, potential side effects, and storage instructions.
  • Chronic disease management: Pharmacists can play a vital role in managing chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and asthma by collaborating with physicians and providing ongoing support and monitoring.
  • Vaccinations: Many pharmacists are now authorized to administer vaccinations, providing convenient access to crucial immunizations for adults 50+.
  • Lifestyle counseling: Pharmacists can offer guidance on healthy lifestyle habits, which can complement medication adherence and improve overall well-being.

Pharmacists play a crucial role in simplifying health care, especially when dealing with ongoing or newly diagnosed health issues. They are valuable allies not only to seniors but also to other health providers. Here's a closer look at how pharmacists are a vital part of your health care team:

Guide to Taking Meds

Some older adults who face mobility challenges or difficulties with hand-eye coordination may struggle with managing their medication dosages correctly. Understanding these obstacles, pharmacists can suggest portable storage options to facilitate easier medication access.

For example, rather than traditional pill bottles, individuals with arthritis might find blister packs, which clearly display the days medications need to be taken, more user-friendly. Such recommendations from pharmacists can significantly enhance both the convenience and safety of medication management for seniors.  

Overseeing Medication Usage

Becoming a pharmacist extends far beyond the confines of managing a drugstore and handling transactions. It encompasses a deep understanding of the potential risks associated with improper drug use. 

As the responsibilities of pharmacists have expanded, so too have the requirements for their education and ongoing professional development. Pharmacists must undertake extensive initial training, including obtaining a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, and then engage in continuous education to stay abreast of the latest advancements in medication therapy management, ensuring they can provide the highest level of care and advice to their patients.

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy lists 143 schools and colleges of pharmacy offering accredited Pharm.D. programs in the United States. Today, pharmacist online schools offer accredited programs, allowing more options for students and continuing education.

Optimizing Medication Adherence

Maintaining strict adherence to medication schedules is crucial for the effectiveness of any treatment, especially for seniors. The timing of medication—often dictated to be after meals or at specific times and frequencies daily—is designed to optimize the body's ability to absorb and process the medicine fully.

Proper medication schedules also play a vital role in helping seniors stay attentive to their health needs, minimizing the risk of neglecting their treatment. Therefore, pharmacists are responsible for supporting seniors in adhering to their medication regimens without missing doses, which could otherwise result in adverse health complications.

The Benefits of Collaboration

The collaboration between pharmacists and physicians is crucial for comprehensive patient care:

  • Improved communication: Pharmacists can share valuable insights regarding medication adherence, side effects, and patient concerns with physicians.
  • Coordinated care: Collaboration facilitates a more coordinated approach to medication management, benefiting patients from a holistic health care perspective.
  • Reduced health care costs: Identifying and addressing medication interactions, optimizing therapeutic regimens, and improving adherence can potentially lead to lower costs.

Use One Pharmacy

Building a relationship with a trusted pharmacist is beneficial for everyone, but especially for those over 50. Some pharmacists have additional training and expertise in the specific needs of older adults.

Consolidating your prescriptions at a single pharmacy offers several key benefits that can significantly impact your health and well-being.

  • Enhanced Medication Safety: When all your medications come from one pharmacy, the pharmacist has a complete picture of your prescriptions. This allows them to identify and prevent potentially dangerous drug interactions, ensuring your medications work together safely and effectively.
  • Streamlined Medication Management: Filling all prescriptions at one location simplifies the refill process, saving you time and effort. You'll receive consistent reminders and instructions, reducing the risk of missed doses or confusion about different medications.
  • Improved Communication and Relationships: Building a relationship with a single pharmacist fosters personalized care and better communication. They can become familiar with your specific needs and health history, providing comprehensive medication counseling and addressing any questions or concerns you may have.

Pharmacists' Role in the Future

With an aging population and growing complexity in health care demands, pharmacists are poised to play an increasingly vital role in the health system. Technological advancements, such as sophisticated medication adherence monitoring tools and the expansion of telehealth services, are set to augment the capabilities and reach of pharmacists significantly. 

Beyond dispensing medication, they will be integral in personalized medication management, offering expert consultations remotely, and providing critical support in chronic disease management. As health care becomes more personalized and data-driven, pharmacists will be key in interpreting and applying this data to improve patient outcomes, making their role indispensable in the evolving health care landscape.

Aging Happens - Don't Wait Till Your Older

At 25, health concerns often take a backseat as the vigor of youth overshadows the need for medical vigilance. However, once you cross into your 50s, health becomes a central topic of conversation and concern. For example, young adults rarely consider the prospect of long-term care unless they experience it firsthand through caring for an aging parent or grandparent.

Focusing on health, including medication management, consultations with doctors, pharmacists, and nurses, and long-term care planning, cannot be overstated and should be emphasized even from a younger age. Adopting a lifestyle that prioritizes exercise, nutritious eating, fitness, and weight management from youth can lay a strong foundation for good health later in life. Starting these habits early is key, though it's important to remember that it's never too late to make positive changes.

Moreover, preparing for retirement and future long-term care needs is a process that should begin well before the onset of old age and the necessity for care. Proactive planning during your younger years can ensure a smoother transition into the later stages of life, safeguarding both your health and financial well-being. This foresight benefits you personally and eases the burden on family members who might otherwise bear the responsibility of your care.

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About the Author

Linda is a freelance writer interested in retirement planning, health and aging.

LTC News Contributor Linda Kople

Linda Kople

Contributor since October 31st, 2017

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