November 4, 2014
Honourable senators, Canadians are living longer than ever. In 2011, life expectancy at birth reached an average of 81.7 years, an increase of almost 25 years since 1921. There is no question that this increase in longevity will be accompanied by societal changes, many of which are already under way. For example, we know that seniors aged 65 and over give more volunteer hours, on average, than any other age cohort.
However, we also know that older Canadians are more likely to use more prescription medications as they age.
A 2014 report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that most seniors take an average of five or more prescribed drugs and that more than 40 per cent of Canadians aged 85 and older take more than 10 prescribed drugs. What, then, is the effect of this increase?
There is no question that older seniors often have complex needs, with multiple chronic conditions to manage. We know that the use of multiple medications, also known as polypharmacy, has unintended consequences.
During the study of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on prescription pharmaceuticals in Canada, we learned that this issue is of growing concern, especially in long-term care facilities where the use of multiple medications is more than double the proportion among seniors living at home. Witnesses expressed concern that adverse events such as falls are often related to drug interactions or polypharmacy.
How, then, do we ensure that seniors are on the right medication plan? Pharmacists suggest an increase in routine medication reviews, which account for changes in health over time. This approach signals a shift on a larger scale, the introduction of a culture of de-prescribing, which encourages us to change the way we think about pharmacy among the elderly.
Honourable senators, November 6 to 12, we recognize National Senior Safety Week in Canada. Let us use this opportunity to re-evaluate prescription medications use for the elderly. There is no question that this is an issue of increasing importance to Canadians and one that is central to the continued safety of a growing seniors’ population.