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Confusion over medication may be putting lives at risk, warn researchers

Date: 22 June 2017

Uncertainty and confusion over multiple medicine use is affecting thousands of patients and their carers and potentially putting lives at risk, warn researchers.

Research suggests that about 5,700 people die every year in the UK because of ‘medication related adverse events’, which includes side-effects and when incorrect medicines, dosages or strengths are administered.

A team led by Dr Ian Maidment at Aston University is undertaking a ground-breaking 20-month study into the problem, with funding from the NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) programme.

The MEMORABLE study will review the scientific evidence and the team will interview older people and carers, and health and care practitioners to learn from their experiences. The work will take place predominantly in the West Midlands, where the population is broadly representative of the UK as a whole.

The team will develop a framework for an intervention to improve medication management in older people with complex medication regimes.

According to the researchers, the problem is particularly pronounced among older people taking many different medicines. Older people, particularly those with dementia, often rely on family members or other carers to manage their medication, and these carers often have their own medication to manage as well.

Dr Maidment said: “With an ageing population, this problem is very likely to get worse. More people will require medication for long term conditions and the responsibility for helping those patients manage their drugs will frequently fall on older carers, who will often have their own medications to deal with as well.

“I worked as a pharmacist for 25 years and it’s my belief that we do not have a system for handling complex medicine regimes well. When a patient is being prescribed several drugs – it’s known as polypharmacy – there are many risks.

“The patient themselves may make mistakes, taking the wrong pill or dosage. And where responsibility for looking after medication moves to a family carer, they may find this role a burden. We need to find a way to make this safer and easier, based on what we can learn from the experiences of patients, carers and practitioners, and from good evidence of what works well. That’s what makes this study novel.”

A third of people aged 75 or over regularly take six or more medicines and it is predicted that up to three million people will be regularly taking multiple medicines within the next year.

Jo Rycroft-Malone, Programme Director for the HS&DR programme, said: "We felt this study, focusing on the needs of older people managing complex medication regimes, addressed an important issue in health service provision.

“This research will gather information from the people with first-hand experience of medication management and provision – carers, patients and medical professionals – in the hope of providing evidence that can inform future practice. The NIHR prides itself on funding studies that address priorities for patients and the NHS.

“This study is also a good example of how our organisation, researchers, medical professionals and patients and the public have a combined role to play in the future of health services and research.” 

For further information on the study, visit the NIHR Journals Library.

  • Summary:
    Uncertainty and confusion over multiple medicine use is affecting thousands of patients and their carers. A team led by Dr Ian Maidment at Aston University is undertaking a ground-breaking 20-month study into the problem.
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  • Year of publication:
    2017
  • Specialty:
    Ageing
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