Senior patients have unique needs that require a hands-on approach from pharmacists. Perfecting that approach is becoming even more important, as the number of elderly patients who are cared for by pharmacists grows. An estimated 10,000 people turn 65 every day in this country, and by 2030, 18% of the nation will be at least 65, according to the Pew Research Center.
“When you look at the older adult population, they represent about 15% of the U.S. population, but they consume 39% of prescription medications,” says Chad Worz, PharmD, BCGP, CEO of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, an organization focused on advancing senior care pharmacy. “So not only is this population rapidly increasing in numbers, but they are the population that consumes the most medications.”
This translates to a significant opportunity for pharmacists to help patients better manage their medications, and to demonstrate their value as critical members of the healthcare team, Worz says.
“A pharmacist is a great resource for people who are struggling with how many medications they are taking, the cost of the medications they are taking, and the need for an overall manager of those medications.”
Jeremy Blais, PharmD, district leader in Connecticut for CVS, says previous research suggests that the average senior patient takes between 13 and 19 medications daily—a figure that’s three times the average for younger patients. Blais says patients, especially those who develop ability issues or visual impairments as they get older, have difficulty keeping track.
Steve MacNeill, RPh, owner of Winchester Pharmacy in Winchester, MA, says pharmacists need to take a highly personalized and customized approach for medication management strategies to be effective for each senior patient.
Pharmacists need to fully understand a patient’s living conditions—including issues like whether they are a hoarder, have little outside support, or struggle with memory issues—when designing care plans, he says.
“You have to try to understand where they are coming from first and try to incorporate the program to meet their needs, not telling them how to do it and say you have to follow our process,” he says.
Jeff Kirchner, RPh, CEO of Streu’s Pharmacy Inc., says compliance can be another challenge with this patient population. Most of the elderly population he works closely with believe they are fully adherent; however, they may skip doses from time to time without realizing it.
Senior patients are often also living on a fixed income and may struggle to pay for costly medications, particularly once they’ve reached the doughnut hole, he says.