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Cholesterol Treatment in the Elderly

By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

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Some of the reasons why medication is not taken as it is prescribed include:

  • Financial difficulties, filling the medications or trying to  save money for other reasons

  • Lack of understanding about how the medication works

  • Side effects of the medication, actual or perceived, and  fear of side effects

  • Being overwhelmed by the number of medications  currently prescribed

  • Symptoms disappeared

  • Difficulty taking (swallowing, etc.) or opening the medication

  • Not remembering to take the medication

If the problem appears to be memory-related, try simple solutions like establishing daily routines around taking medication, using medication reminders, or subscribing to a reminder alert system. For instance, some alerts are available now by email or through companies that work through contracts to call patients when it is time to take their medication. Pharmacies can also help package medications in easy-to-remember single doses so that it is easier to remember which ones to take.

If the medication is difficult to swallow, caregivers can talk to the doctor to find out if the medication can be prescribed in liquid form or if the tablets can be cut or crushed. Some medications cannot be crushed or cut, so it is important to ask before trying this method. If the medication cannot be made available in a liquid form, cut or crushed, perhaps the doctor can prescribe an alternative medication that provides the same benefit.

Financial issues can often be overcome through several methods. For Medicare beneficiaries, double-check the types of plans offered during open enrollment (October 15 to December 7). Some medications may be covered through one plan and not another. A benefits counselor, usually available through the local Area Agency on Aging, can help decide which plans may provide more coverage. Due to high demand, it helps to schedule an appointment with the benefits counselor before open enrollment begins. For those who are not eligible for Medicare, pharmaceutical companies offer prescription assistance programs with purchasing some medications. A few programs that can provide assistance locating the right plan or program include and the Partnership for Prescription Assistance ( or by calling 1-888-477-2669.

Other issues can best be addressed through education. A two-prong approach to education may work best. The first method is to learn as much as possible about the risks of the condition and how treatment should work. For example, patients and their caregivers should be well acquainted with the risks and effects of untreated high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. If the doctorís office is not able to provide this education, and most can, then medical libraries are available online to provide assistance. One of the most well-known and consumer friendly sites is (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), which provides reputable, well-researched information about high cholesterol, its risks, and how it can be treated.

The second prong in the education arena is learning about the medication that has been prescribed. A patientís doctor should always be the first person asked about the medication. It is important to learn why it is prescribed, possible side effects, and if follow-up tests are needed to determine its effectiveness. Some cholesterol medications, for example, may need liver function tests to make sure that liver damage does not occur as a side effect of treatment.


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