Making the most of multiple medications

More than half of adults age 65 and older have 3 or more chronic medical problems. Common chronic or ongoing health problems include high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma, or arthritis, for example. The more health problems a person has, the more medicines typically are needed to manage those conditions.


It can be tricky to prescribe medicines for patients who have more than one health problem. A drug that might be useful for treating one of the health problems might make another problem worse. Thus, health care providers must consider the impact on each individual when prescribing drug therapy to manage multiple medical problems.

Additive medicine use can lead to undue burden on patients, caregivers, and the health care system. As a result, older adults need to be mindful about each medicine added to their regimen and actively discuss concerns, questions, and alternatives to drug therapy with their doctor. Below are tips for older adults who have several chronic health problems to help patients proactively manage their medications.

  1. Get as much information about your treatment options as possible. This includes information about different drug therapy options, as well as “lifestyle changes” that can help manage the condition.
  2. Make sure your healthcare provider understands what is important to you in your health care. Do you prefer minimal intervention, including limiting drug therapy when possible? Would you rather seek alternative or natural therapies? Do you welcome the latest technology and testing that is available?

  3. Ask questions about benefits and risks of drug therapy or recommended treatment. What might happen if you do not treat the condition?

  4. Let your healthcare professional know right away if a treatment does not seem to be working or if it is causing a side effect.

  5. Speak up if your drug treatment plan is too complicated to manage, the medicines are too expensive, or if you have any other concerns. Communicate with your health care team – this includes your pharmacist.

  6. Make the most of treatments that cause few or no side effects. Do not always ask for the newest drug therapy that you see advertised. Older, time-tested medicines often are the safer, wiser choice. There are exceptions to this, of course.

Resources:, “Living with multiple health problems: what older adults should know.”

Boyd CM et al. Clinical practice guidelines and quality of care of older patients with multiple comorbid diseases. JAMA 2005;294:716-24.


The information provided by HbL PharmaConsulting is intended to help persons better understand their health and medications. Information is to be used as an educational tool and should be discussed with the person’s health care professionals. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of those health care professionals.