UK researchers are to launch a new study that will look at new ways of making medication management easier for older people struggling with multiple prescriptions.
The 20-month study is being led by Aston University, with funding from the National Institute for Health Research, and will review the scientific evidence on the risks for patients associated with the prescription of multiple drugs - a trend known as polypharmacy.
Additionally, the team will interview older people, carers and health and care practitioners to gain insights directly from their experiences, with this work to take place predominantly in the West Midlands, where the population is broadly representative of the UK as a whole.
Current research suggests that about 5,700 people die every year in the UK because of medication-related adverse events, including side effects and bad reactions that occur when incorrect medicines, dosages or strengths are administered.
The cost of these events is estimated at £750 million, with a further £300 million bill for wasted medicines that are prescribed without being taken. The Aston University team said this issue is particularly pronounced among older people taking many different medicines, as many of these individuals have conditions such as dementia, or are reliant on family members or other carers to manage their medication.
Dr Ian Maidment, who is leading the Aston University research, is a former pharmacist who believes the current system for handling complex medicine regimens is flawed, as patients often make mistakes, while family carers who are forced to take responsibility for administering several prescriptions often find this role to be a burden.
He 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."
Currently, around one-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.