Applied Evidence

Strategies to reduce and prevent polypharmacy in older patients

School of Pharmacy, University of Wyoming, Laramie
[email protected]

The authors reported no potential conflict of interest relevant to this article.



Reducing consequences of polypharmacy

Collaborative medication review

Interventions to help physicians reduce polypharmacy include reviewing medications with older patients at every office visit and during transitions of care into and out of the hospital or other care facility. A 2016 Cochrane review of 5 randomized trials of inpatient medication reviews led by pharmacists, physicians, and other health care professionals showed a 36% reduction in ED visits 30 days to 1 year after discharge.7

Consequences of polypharmacy can be masked as syndromes in older patients—eg, delirium, urinary incontinence, dizziness.

Patients can collaborate in this effort by bringing all medications to each appointment or upon hospital admission—not just a list but the actual supply, to ensure that a correct medication list is compiled and a thorough review conducted.8 Explicitly ask open-ended questions of the patient about over-the-counter medications, herbal products, and other home remedies that have not been prescribed; many patients may have trouble with recall or are uncertain what fits the definition of a nonprescription medication.8,9

Compare the medication list with the patient’s current problem list; consider removing medications that do not have a pertinent indication. (Physicians can help in this regard when prescribing by making note in the medical record of the indication for each medication they prescribe.)

Evaluate the patient’s signs and symptoms as a possible drug-related adverse effect, thus making an effort to minimize the chance of a prescribing cascade.9

Use Beers criteria,10 which list potentially inappropriate medications to be avoided in older adults. The criteria serve as a filter when considering starting a new medication and aiding in the review process.8

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