Among seniors with 3 or more chronic health conditions, four out of ten told researchers they did not take all the drugs prescribed to them over the year. The 2005 study of over 17,000 seniors on prescription medication was co-sponsored by Tufts New England Medical Center.  When asked why seniors stop taking medicine, participants stated that costs were too high,  they didn’t think the pills were helping them, or they felt they did not need the drugs.

What seems to you like a senseless decision to stop taking medicine  may actually seem logical to the patient. Grandma may feel the pills are far too expensive; Grandpa may think that since he’s symptom-free now, he should stop taking his pills. Or your elderly spouse may dislike the side effects of a new pill. He may just be having trouble swallowing them.  Before you assume they’re just being difficult, get to know the real reasons seniors stop taking medicine as prescribed.

Seniors Stop Taking Medicine

courtesy steven depolo

Actual Reasons Boston Seniors Stop Taking Medicine.

  1. For many seniors, new medications or combinations of pills lead to nausea and other side effects. This can make them stop taking the drugs that make them feel bad. Rather than call her doctor, your aging parent may just skip doses or stop taking medicine altogether.
  2. Difficulty swallowing pills or trouble  using a syringe for diabetes medication may lead an older person to stop taking medicine.

  3. Some elderly patients, especially those who were healthy throughout most of their lives, just decide they’re taking too many pills. This could be a sign of depression but could also just be a belief that healing should require less chemistry.

  4. Not understanding what the pills are for. This is especially true when new pills are prescribed on release from the hospital. The doctor may not take the time to discuss the purpose and proper use of each prescribed medication.

  5. Mild or moderate dementia may cause an elderly person to miss doses or stop taking  medicine. Confusion and forgetfulness leads to missed doses and misplaced pills.

  6. Trying to save money. Many seniors on fixed incomes get “sticker shock” when paying for their prescriptions and other meds, and will be reluctant to purchase the medication.

  7. Thinking that if they’re symptom free, they should stop taking their medication.


Knowing Why Makes All the Difference

All of these issues can and should be addressed by the primary caregiver. Once you discover the excuses made or the legitimate reasons seniors stop taking medicine, you can take concrete steps to make it easier and more compelling for your aging parent or spouse to follow doctor’s orders.

Experts generally agree that a family or non-medical caregiver should never force a senior to take medication.  If you think they are feeling depressed, remind them how much you love them and ask them to keep taking the pills, while seeking professional help for their emotional distress.

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