A North­eastern Uni­ver­sity fac­ulty researcher said the elderly often fail to take their med­ica­tions as pre­scribed, cre­ating quality-​​of-​​life issues, espe­cially for older people with mul­tiple chronic diseases.

A study by Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Phar­macy Prac­tice Kathy Bungay revealed how those diag­nosed with depres­sion and other chronic con­di­tions, like dia­betes and hyper­ten­sion, manage a com­plex list of med­ica­tions and dosages between visits to the doctor.

The results showed pat­terns of behavior that may help physi­cians, phar­ma­cists and other care­givers under­stand how best to help older people accept new med­ica­tions and main­tain their existing med­ica­tion reg­imen at home.

I don’t think we’ve really asked people what they do at home,” said Bungay. “In the real world, it’s shocking; there’s a whole host of medication-​​taking behav­iors that are dif­ferent than what their physi­cian pre­scribes. My goal was to hear, in their own words, what they’re doing.”

For the project — funded by an $890,000 National Insti­tutes of Mental Health grant — Bungay inter­viewed 49 people age 60 to 87 in the Boston area to explore their moti­va­tions and methods for taking med­ica­tions, espe­cially anti­de­pres­sants. Pre­vious studies have shown that the elderly are averse to taking anti­de­pres­sant medications.

Her inter­views uncov­ered one expla­na­tion for this finding — they use anti­de­pres­sants to relieve symp­toms of depres­sion, but are reluc­tant to admit that they suffer from the actual con­di­tion of depression.

The find­ings sug­gest that health-​​care providers may need to change how they com­mu­ni­cate the need for anti­de­pres­sants. “If they say ‘You know Mabel, you’re depressed. I want you to take this drug,’ that might not do it,” Bungay said.

She plans to con­tinue the research by testing her find­ings in dif­ferent pop­u­la­tions. Ulti­mately, she hopes to expand it to all adults man­aging mental health prob­lems and mul­tiple chronic dis­eases. The research is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant today, she said, because people are living longer, but spending less time with their physicians.

Bungay, who came to North­eastern last year from Tufts Med­ical Center, is among just 20 to 30 phar­macy researchers in the nation chosen to serve as the prin­cipal inves­ti­gator for a major National Insti­tutes of Health grant.