Campus News

Team Alice works to protect seniors from medication overload

Senior woman holding five tablets in her hands.

Many seniors take drugs that not only aren’t doing them any good, they may actually be doing them harm.

By ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published February 25, 2020

headshot of Ranjit Singh.
“The TV ads say ‘Talk to your doctor about taking X.’ We say, ‘Talk to your doctor about not taking X.’”
Ranjit Singh, associate professor
Department of Family Medicine

Older adults take more prescription drugs than any other segment of the population. Many take drugs that not only aren’t doing them any good, they may actually be doing them harm.

Empowering seniors to begin addressing that problem themselves was the focus of a session presented recently at the Cheektowaga Senior Center by Team Alice, an innovative research and advocacy initiative based in UB’s Center for Successful Aging at the University at Buffalo.

The session, titled “Self-Advocacy and Medications,” was hosted by University Express of the Erie County Department of Senior Services. The presentation was given by researchers and patient advocates from Team Alice.

“The TV ads say ‘Talk to your doctor about taking X,’” Ranjit Singh, associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine, director of its Primary Care Research Institute and a member of Team Alice, told UBNow before the presentation. “We say, ‘Talk to your doctor about not taking X.’

“We call it patient-driven deprescribing,” Singh continued. “It’s about patient empowerment, an initiative to arm patients with the skills to advocate for themselves so they can stop taking certain medications that could do them more harm than good.”

Singh said part of the difficulty is that the health care environment and systems currently in place work to keep patients on medications rather than question whether or not they are still well-served by them.

“The provider isn’t thinking about this,” he said. “In primary care, providers are under a lot of pressure to meet productivity and quality metrics. It takes extra thought and time to pause and say, should we stop this medication? If we want to stop it, how do we do it? Do we need to taper it or can we stop it right away? What symptoms should we look for? We’re teaching the patient a way to say ‘hey, doc, do I really need this?’”

Mary Brennan-Taylor holding a photo of her mother, Alice.

Mary Brennan-Taylor holds a photo of her mother, Alice.

Team Alice is inspired by Mary Brennan-Taylor, who lost her mother, Alice, to preventable medication errors in 2009. Since then, Brennan-Taylor, a patient advocate and adjunct faculty member in the Department of Family Medicine, has been sharing her tragic story with students, health care providers, policymakers and media in hopes of changing both health care culture and policy. Team Alice, a multidisciplinary research team at UB, was formed to protect seniors from medication-related harm.

Through events like the one at the Cheektowaga Senior Center and the development of short videos, Team Alice is engaging with seniors in Western New York to help them understand the risks of inappropriate medications, and to advocate for themselves to get off some of these drugs, or to avoid taking them in the first place.

Team Alice has developed The Deprescribing Partnership of Western New York, holding regular meetings with local stakeholders, including primary care providers, pharmacists, insurance plans and the area’s Regional Health Information Organization, HEALTHeLINK, to develop and test solutions locally.

In addition to Brennan-Taylor and Singh, other UB faculty involved in Team Alice are Robert G. Wahler Jr., Scott V. Monte, David M. Jacobs and Christopher Daly, all clinical assistant professors in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Molly Ranahan and Collin Clark, both postdoctoral scholars in the Primary Care Research Institute, Department of Family Medicine, and Andrew Baumgartner, a fourth-year medical student in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, are also on the team.