Study Outlines Successful Management of Medication
March 12, 2008
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— As the proportion of older adults rises in the United States, a
growing number of patients must learn to juggle multiple medications with potentially
complex dosage schedules, while also facing age-related changes that may hamper their
ability to manage medication.
Millions of people in the United States gamble with their health each day by not taking
prescribed medications correctly. The World Health Organization predicts only 50 percent
of patients typically take medicine as prescribed.
A study by Illinois Wesleyan University nursing faculty suggests health care professionals
can look at an older patient’s lifestyle to understand whether they may be successful
in managing their prescriptions and needed medications.
The IWU study results, which will be published in July in Nursing Science Quarterly, present characteristics of patients who successfully manage their medicine. “There
are certain features that seem to influence whether or not someone will manage their
medicine well, which we call ‘living orderly’ or ‘aging well,’” said associate professor
of nursing Kathy Scherck.
Scherck along with Susan Swanlund, assistant professor of nursing, and Sharie Metcalfe
and Shelia Jesek-Hale, both associate professors of nursing, studied a group of older
adults in order to assess what problems they might be having managing medicine on
their own. “What we found surprised us,” said Swanlund. “We found a group of people
who were all successful at self-management. This presented a possible guideline for
healthcare providers to note who might do well, and conversely, who might need more
assistance, with medication.”
According to the study, those who lead more orderly lives tend to be more successful
with managing their medicine. “These people keep track of their lives, even if they
are very busy,” said Scherck. “If they are successful with organizing their lives,
they can be successful organizing their medicine.”
In the study, some patients developed fairly easy systems for taking the medicine,
whether putting needed pills in the same location each day, or establishing “triggers,”
or reminders to take medicine. “These people had established patterns that made self-management
possible, and simplification was important as well,” said Scherck. “They had learned
how to make their lives work, and felt that their medicine fell into a overall life
Part of that plan included flexibility. “There was a component of anticipation, planning
what to do in case medication was forgotten,” said Swanlund. “There was not a sense
of rigidity, in a way each successful plan was individualized into the life of the
The idea sounds simple, but the study also found aging well is more than establishing
a consistent routine, it also means incorporating medicine into a positive outlook
of health and living well. “The people who were doing well in the study have made
medicine just one piece of their overall wellness,” said Metcalfe. “They have integrated
medicine into their lives.”
The published study, which covers data collected from 2003-2004, represents phase
one of the research, which is continuing with different populations. Swanlund is looking
at how a “snow bird’ schedule affects medicine management. “I’m working with data
from older adults who travel during the spring,” said Swanlund, whose data covers
19 adults from 11 different states who all journey to Florida in winter.
Jesek-Hale is expanding the research to a younger group, exploring how pregnant women
manage their health, including use of pre-natal vitamins and pre-natal care during
pregnancy. “This whole idea of developing your life with a positive and proactive
approach seems to have a very big impact on living well, no matter your age or state
of health,” said Jesek-Hale.
“Everyone knows they are supposed to take their medicine,” said Metcalfe. “We all
know that’s what a healthcare provider wants to hear. If patients are asked, ‘Are
you taking your medicine?’ The answer is generally yes, whether they do or they don’t.
But providers ask about daily patterns, daily living, they could get a better idea
of how patients are managing their lives, and how medicine plays into that picture.”
Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960