Durham, NC—Every pharmacist, at one point or another, has delivered a prescription to older adults and worried that they might not be able to manage their medications properly.

A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society sought to develop a scale to help determine which patients were most likely to need help. To do that, pharmacy researchers from Duke University and colleagues examined data from 4,106 African American and white older adults living in five counties in North Carolina.

Participants, who had a variety of comorbidities including poor vision, hearing problems or having been diagnosed with stroke, diabetes, hypertension, cardiac disease, or cancer, were asked, “Are you able to take your medicine without help (in the right doses at the right time)?”

Researchers tested participants’ mental abilities and also reviewed their medication containers to determine how many prescription and over-the-counter medications they took.

While, at the beginning of the study, 7.1% of participants needed help taking their medication, after 3 years, another 11% required aid even though they had not previously.

Study authors note that predictors of a new need for medication help were similar to those seen at the beginning of the study and included:

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

Patients 80 and older were 1.5 to 3 times as likely to need help with their medications than were people aged 65 to 69, according to the report; men were 1.5 to 2 times as likely as women to require aid. The odds of needing help were 3 to 5 times greater among people with memory challenges, study authors emphasize.

“This brief scale can help identify persons needing help with medications and could be useful in assisting clinicians with medication management,” the study concludes.

“Health conditions may worsen or not improve if older adults skip or don't take their medications properly,” explained Brenda D. Jamerson, PharmD, of the 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.”

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