Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Role of Pharmacists in Providing Care for Elderly Dementia Patients

Image from National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

The number of dementia patients in the United States continues to rise with the aging of the baby boomer population. According to recent research on U.S. dementia trends, over seven million people aged 65 years or older have been affected by dementia in the past four years. Experts project that the number might rise to 12 million by 2040 if the existing health and demographic trends continue. As a pharmacist, you are well-equipped to assist in early dementia identification as well as help your patients manage medicines. Let's take an in-depth look at the role of pharmacists in providing patient-centered care for elderly dementia patients.

Prevention of Medication Errors

Medication errors rank as the most common and avoidable cause of patient harm, with more than 1.5 million medication errors occurring in the U.S. each year. Errors can manifest at different stages of the patient treatment process, from prescription to actual drug administration. Dementia patients have memory loss, which increases the risk of drug omission, improper dose, wrong time, taking unauthorized medication, and more.  

As trained medication experts, pharmacists are uniquely poised to be at the forefront of preventing, detecting, and resolving medication errors. One of the solutions to medication errors is creating a list of essential medications and programming them into an existing LTC pharmacy software.  

The American population continues to age and future pharmacists will most likely take a greater mandate in promoting effective and safe use of medication in older adults. If you are an aspiring pharmacist, consider enrolling in an online Pharm D Program to equip yourself adequately for what’s to come. 

Optimization of Medication Needs 

As a pharmacist, you have to rely on the patients' needs and evolving care goals when prescribing medicine or recommending pharmacologic therapy. Consider deprescribing whenever possible while bearing in mind that the care goal in dementia patients is gradually shifting from extending life to optimizing their quality of life.  

Start deprescribing early before your patient enters long-term care (LTC). This will allow you to communicate and get feedback from the patient about the therapy you have started, altered, or stopped. It will be safe to emphasize medications that target the central nervous system rather than intensive pharmacologic therapy as the patient’s low body weight may not withstand it.        

Patient Education and Involvement  

Pharmacists are not only healthcare providers but educators as well. You have to engage with your dementia patients and caregivers and make them understand proper medication use and its purpose. 

Besides, you have to provide information about medicine interactions and possible side effects as well as teach them how to use drug dispenser devices, drug calendar reminders, and pill crushers.

Organize medication presentations or workshops to educate the nursing staff about medication names, benefits, side effects, pharmacologic classes, and more. This will help eliminate delays in an emergency when the nurse doesn’t know which exact drug to get.  

Looking Beyond Medications  

Sometimes, combining multiple treatment modalities might be a better solution to treating some conditions. Where necessary, recommend nonpharmacologic solutions to your dementia patients and refer them to other healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists, optometrists, and speech-language pathologists.  

For instance, most advanced dementia patients have to deal with constant painful joint contractures. You can completely treat this by blending pharmacologic therapy with physical therapy

Developing a Tailored Medication Management Plan 

For pharmacists to offer patient-centered care to dementia patients, they must develop individualized medicine management plans. These plans help address each patient's pharmacological needs, preferences, and lifestyle.  

Technology has become a key player in modern pharmaceutical care. Most experienced pharmacists use medication dispensing technologies, electronic prescribing systems, and digital health records to enhance and streamline the medication management process, lowering the risk of errors.  

The role of pharmacists in handling elderly dementia patients is unmatched. Their expertise leads to effective, safe, and well-tailored medical regimens, properly addressing medication adherence and polypharmacy, as well as improving the quality of life. With the continual aging of the population, pharmacists must constantly adapt, innovate, and enhance skills to meet the evolving medication care demands.       

Amy Wilson is a passionate health writer dedicated to making complex medical topics accessible and engaging and covers a wide range of topics from nutrition and fitness to mental health and wellness.

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