Do I Really Need to Take That Medication?

Do I Really Need to Take That Medication?

What is Polypharmacy?

Over time, people tend to take more and more medications. Taking a large number of medications is called polypharmacy. Polypharmacy can lead to:

  • Increased risk of side effects, including increased risk of falls and increased risk of cognitive impairment. 
  • Increased risk of drug-drug interactions. 
  • Increased risk of drug-disease interactions. 

Risks of Polypharmacy?

The risks from polypharmacy are particularly higher for older adults, because as people get older:

  • They take more and more medications. 
  • Their bodies change, and they may become less able to process and tolerate medications. 
  • Their needs for medications may change.
    • They may need medications that they did not need before.
    • They may no longer need certain medications. 
    • They may no longer need the same dose.

How to Identify Unnecessary Medications?

While a person with a lot of medical conditions may need to take a lot of medications, some of their medications may be unnecessary. Since all medications have potential adverse effects, some of which may be serious, it is a good idea to eliminate unnecessary medications through the process of deprescribing. 

  • The first step is to make a list of all the medications you are taking with the purpose, dose, and frequency of each medication listed. Make sure to make a note of which medications are to be taken on a regular schedule and which are to be taken only as needed.
  • Include prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements on the list. All of these are medications. 
  • If you cannot make a list, put all of the medications in a bag and show them to your healthcare provider.
  • If you do not know the reason why you have been prescribed a particular medication, this does not necessarily mean that you should stop taking it. Instead, ask your healthcare provider why you are taking it. If even the healthcare provider does not know why you are taking it, this medication may be a good candidate for deprescribing.
  • Some medications, such as steroids or antidepressants, should be stopped gradually (tapered) rather than abruptly stopped to prevent withdrawal symptoms. 


  • Polypharmacy Risks: Taking many medications, called polypharmacy, increases risks like side effects, falls, cognitive issues, and interactions, especially for older adults.
  • Changing Medication Needs: Aging often means more medications, and physiological changes impact tolerance. Medication needs shift, some becoming unnecessary while others essential.
  • Deprescribing for Safety: Due to potential adverse effects, it’s wise to assess and eliminate unnecessary medications, involving creating a detailed list.
  • Consulting Healthcare Providers: In deprescribing, consulting healthcare providers is crucial. Understanding each medication’s purpose helps identify candidates for deprescribing. Some may require gradual tapering.
  • Educational Resources: Various references highlight polypharmacy dangers, offering guidance on deprescribing for those evaluating their medication regimens.
  • Read more about this article!

Take the first step towards achieving your healthcare goals by scheduling an appointment with our medical provider through Umedoc today.

This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.

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