As we get older, our bodies change, including our response to medications and how we handle them. Dr. Joanne Ho, Schlegel Chair in Geriatric Pharmacotherapy, associate professor at McMaster University, geriatrician and clinical pharmacologist, is committed to helping older adults when it comes to their medications. Dr. Ho is passionate about increasing access to drug information and promoting safe prescribing practices for healthcare providers.
One common misunderstanding, Dr. Ho shared, is that older adults can handle medications the same way younger people do. The truth is, as we age, our bodies become more sensitive to some drugs, and our ability to process them changes. This can lead to a higher risk of harmful drug reactions and interactions.
Another common misconception is that only prescribed drugs can cause harmful interactions with one another. In reality, supplements, vitamins, alcohol, coffee, and recreational drugs are important to know about too. Dr. Ho suggests taking all of your medications (or an updated list of them) as well as these other substances, in a bag to your doctor, nurse practitioner and pharmacist to review.
Dr. Ho highlights the importance of talking openly with your healthcare providers about your medications. Older adults should not be afraid to ask questions, like how your medications are helping you achieve your goals, how to avoid potential side effects and interactions with other drugs and non-prescribed substances, and if you still need to take certain medicines.
She is working to increase accessibility to geriatric-focused drug information for clinicians who care for older adults and to promote safe prescribing practices. For the past seven years, Dr. Ho has been providing an interdisciplinary geriatric clinical pharmacology, psychiatry, and pharmacy consultation service for clinicians through a non-profit she started called GeriMedRisk. The program also provides education to healthcare providers on how to prescribe medication safely, especially in the virtual care setting.
By educating clinicians about geriatric clinical pharmacology, Dr. Ho hopes to improve the quality of life and to reduce the risk of adverse drug reactions among older adults. It is important for older adults to take an active role in managing their medications with their healthcare professionals and to ask questions to ensure they are taking their medication safely and effectively.