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Seniors' Health: Stick with your medication for best results

Special blister packs and regular counselling can help seniors take all their pills

Two recent studies show that seniors who keep taking their prescribed medication have better blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and live longer after suffering a heart attack.

In an Ontario study by Dr. David Alter and his colleagues at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, seniors who had more consistent treatment with cholesterol and blood pressure lowering drugs were less likely to die in the year following a heart attack.

The study involved more than 31,000 people age 66 years and older who were prescribed at least one of three types of medication within three months of hospital discharge: cholesterol drugs called statins, or blood pressure drugs called beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers.

The researchers used prescription data to indirectly measure the degree to which patients stuck with their medication. Those who had a low adherence to statin therapy had a 25 per cent higher mortality risk than those with a high adherence. Similarly, patients with a low adherence to beta-blockers had a 13 per cent higher mortality rate than those with a high adherence. The association between adherence and survival was not seen in those who took calcium channel blockers, which have no proven survival benefits when taken after a heart attack.

In a U.S. study, researchers found that specially designed medication blister packs and pharmacist-directed education sessions can help seniors stay faithful to drug regimens involving several medications, and help them maintain healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the process.

Dr. Allen Taylor and his colleagues at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., enrolled 200 patients age 65 years and older who were taking at least four long-term medications. At the beginning of the study, the participants were taking only 60 per cent of their prescribed pills, but this increased to nearly 97 per cent during a six-month program in which they received their pills in time-specific blister packs and got regular followup and education from pharmacists. At the same time, the patients experienced drops in blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol.