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Boomers and Beyond: Pharmacists are an underutilized resource

Carolyn Stegman

July 22, 2012

As we age, many of us will develop ailments. Fortunately modern medicine has allowed us to live healthy lives despite diseases such as hypertension, arthritis, or diabetes. Many older persons have adjusted to a regimen of medications that help curtail or prevent disease. For example, when dietary changes are not enough, lowering one's cholesterol can be a daily pill away.

But medications, while helpful or even lifesaving, can come with side effects, contraindications or allergic reactions. And if we are taking several medications, the chance of adverse effects increases. This is where our pharmacist can help.

"Pharmacists are resources," says Dr. Cynthia Boyle at University of Maryland Eastern Shore's School of Pharmacy. "and do so much more than dispense drugs. We can help patients better understand their medications. In fact, a significant part of our curriculum is teaching students to meet the needs of patients and families through health promotion and education."

There are many examples that substantiate Boyle's philosophy:

An adult daughter describes to her local pharmacist that in the last several weeks her mother is feeling more sleepy and anxious. Both mother and daughter had chalked up these symptoms to "old age," therefore they had not informed their physician. Realizing that a new prescription may be the culprit in this behavioral change, the pharmacist encouraged them to contact their physician, who in turn prescribed another drug with fewer side effects for this particular patient.

Another older adult is discharged from the hospital with four prescriptions, including antibiotics, to fill. She now has new drugs to add to the ones she has already been taking before her hospitalization. The pharmacist realizes that two of the drugs can cause adverse reactions when used together and alerts the doctor.

Pharmacists and doctors communicate all of the time. However, for the public that they serve, pharmacists can be a largely underutilized resource. Most of us call in the prescription and pick it up, often with little understanding of how it is working. Few read the pamphlets accompanying the drug, and fewer still realize that they can make appointments with their pharmacists to go over the management of their medications.

The 50-plus population wants to stay healthy longer, which includes incorporating the responsible use of medications. Pharmacy students at UMES (a founder of the 50+ Network) are learning that on a regular basis. Many of these students will stay local, thus becoming involved in our communities; and, like their predecessors already in the field, be available to assist in managing our personal health.

Delmarva Daily Times View Source

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