New geriatric pharmacy center addresses a growing U.S. need

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New geriatric pharmacy center addresses a growing U.S. need

Center founded with gift from couple that trail-blazed Pharmacy education
Sarah C.B. Guthrie

People live longer with chronic illnesses these days, using medication to manage conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It is unsurprising that, among older adults, medication-related problems – side effects, falls, overprescribing and improper adherence – are among the top causes of hospitalizations and the loss of independent living. 

With that backdrop, the University of Washington School of Pharmacy today inaugurates the Plein Center for Geriatric Pharmacy Research, Education & Outreach.  The center will promote the discovery and optimal use of medications in older adults.

Undated photo / UW School of Pharmacy
Joy and Elmer Plein drove several UW Pharmacy initiatives. Joy is a professor emeritus today; Elmer Plein died in 1994.
picture of Joy and Elmer Plein

Researchers will collaborate on projects related to:

  • medication management, adherence, and safety;
  • the role of drugs in prevention and treatment of health conditions affecting older adults – for example, falls, fracture, cognitive decline, dementia diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders;
  • ways to enhance pharmacists’ ability to care for older adults and underserved populations. 

The center also will encompass training programs in geriatrics for Pharmacy doctorate and other students.

Foundational funding for the center and its director position was provided by Joy and Elmer Plein. Elmer joined the UW School of Pharmacy faculty in 1938. He led several initiatives, including the 1968 founding of the clinical pharmacy program – one of just two such programs in the Western United States at that time. Joy is widely credited for creating momentum for senior-care pharmacy in Washington state, at a time when few pharmacists were geriatricians and far fewer advocates existed for older patients.

In 1973, the couple developed a nursing home pharmacy course, the foundation of what is now the school’s certificate program in Geriatric Pharmacy. 

Matt Hagen
School of Pharmacy student Lara Hart interviews a patient in a training session.
picture of School of Pharmacy student Lara Hart interviewing a patient in a training session.

“Our school is co-located with UW Medicine and the schools of Nursing and Social Work – each offering geriatric specialty training and highly regarded research centers,” said Sean D. Sullivan, professor and dean of school. “With our collaborative approach to training, the School of Pharmacy is positioned to fully participate in a comprehensive approach to healthy aging.” 
The Pew Research Center reported that roughly 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, and that by 2030, 18 percent of the U.S. population will be over age 65.

As drug research advances and medications become more personalized, the need grows for providers with expertise in medication choices and drug interactions. Clinics, health systems, nursing facilities and hospitals nationwide are turning to pharmacists for their medication knowledge to improve patient health, particularly for chronic illnesses.