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The Importance of Following Doctor’s Orders As You Age

We’ve all heard the phrase “follow the doctor’s orders,” but as some people get older this becomes more difficult to do.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, 30 to 50 percent of all people ignore or don’t completely follow instructions for how to take medication, and only about 50 percent of people stick to long-term therapy for chronic health issues such as heart disease and diabetes.

As a doctor who deals with older adults every day, I see this all the time. I know it’s not because people aren’t concerned about their health. In fact, all of them are, but they often struggle with managing multiple prescriptions or remembering some of the conversations we’ve had about what to do once they leave my office.

Unfortunately, aging is often accompanied by more visits to the doctor and more medication. If you or your loved one finds it challenging to follow the health or medication regimen prescribed by your doctor, here are some things you can do to more closely follow doctor’s orders.

Why Some People Don’t Follow Doctor’s Orders

Older adults tend not to follow their doctor’s advice for several reasons. People who take several medications often have difficulty keeping track of when to take their prescriptions. According to research, people who take only one prescription a day stick to their regimen 80 percent of the time. However, that number drops to 50 percent in patients who take medications four times a day.

Some elderly adults also may be worried about the potential side effects of certain medications, which is understandable. Others may think that the benefit of treatment is small compared to the costs. In fact, this is one of the most common reasons. Treatment and prescription drug costs can be very expensive, especially for elderly people who may have limited health care coverage and live on a fixed income. About 2 million people on Medicare say they don’t take all their required medications because it can be too costly.

As people age, some also experience memory loss. This can make it difficult to remember simple things and to follow a normal routine, especially when it comes to taking medication.

What You Can Do

Not following the doctor’s orders can impact your health. Avoiding or limiting medication accounts for 20 percent of hospital stays and 25 percent of nursing home admissions, according to one 2001 study.

There are several things we can do to help, but we also need every patient—and their families—to be actively involved in their health care. If cost is an issue, we might prescribe lower-cost alternatives that may be just as effective. Prescription drug assistance programs and options, like the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, also can help lower your out-of-pocket costs.

If you take several medications for chronic diseases, we can simplify your regimen as much as possible and set a schedule that times when you take your medication to other activities you normally do, such as eating breakfast or dinner. It’s also important to involve family members and friends, who can remind you about when to take and refill your prescriptions and the time and date of your next doctor’s visit. Some providers also offer a worry-free refill program that automatically delivers medications to your home or for pickup at a local pharmacy.

It’s important to establish a good relationship with your doctor and to openly discuss any challenges you have. Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns about a particular medication. Your doctor can give you all the necessary information so that you understand all the options and feel as though you can make an informed decision about your health. If necessary, bring a caregiver or family member along to your appointments so this person can write down all the information from your doctor. This way you have something to refer to if you can’t remember exactly what was said.

Aging comes with a specific set of challenges for many people, and sometimes you may need a little extra support to manage your health. Never hesitate to ask for assistance from your doctor. We’re always here to help.



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