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Addressing the Polypharmacy Challenge in Older People

The Polypharmacy Challenge Blog


Medicines: just what the doctor ordered? APOLLO-MM team ask the people of Tower Hamlets

Lucie Hogger, CLAHRC North Thames Research Fellow, shares some of the highlights from the APOLLO-MM team's day at the Festival of Communities.

The APOLLO-MM team hosted a popular and engaging stall, attracting a record 187 visitors at this year’s Festival of Communities, a free event at Stepney Park in Tower Hamlets for those from the local community and beyond. Now in its second year, the Festival was created by Queen Mary University of London and local community groups to explore living and learning in East London.

Visitors to the APOLLO-MM stall had the opportunity to talk to researchers about medicines and took part in games and quizzes. Children could play at being a clinician by making up dosette boxes (medicines aids with separate compartments for times and days) from prescriptions. Using tweezers to choose differently coloured ‘pills’, they had to fill boxes accurately and safely, being sure to avoid contamination by not touching medicines with their hands.

In true British summer fashion the rain appeared mid-morning and stayed for the rest of the day but neither the APOLLO-MM team nor the determined young would-be pharmacists were deterred; a steady flow of visitors kept the stall buzzing until closing time. The dosette box game was the team’s most popular attraction, providing lots of opportunities for conversations with children about the role of the pharmacist and medicines safety whilst they filled the boxes.

Dosette box pharmacy game


Dosette box pharmacy game


During the course of the day there were also lots of interesting and thoughtful discussions between researchers and adult attendees. Topics included beliefs about medicines taking, such as “I feel sad when I am given more medicine, it means I am getting older and may die soon” and effectiveness, “I don’t take any… ecause then they won’t work when you need them.” We also gave information about our polypharmacy research study and found that many of the visitors knew someone who took lots of medicines, helping to build our understanding of how polypharmacy affects people’s lives. One visitor told us how her husband’s dosette box had changed the way he and his medical team managed his diabetes: “before they were all over the place… now the pharmacist does it.”

Some common household foods and drinks can interact with medicines, but do you know which ones? Visitors to the stall who were curious about this viewed a selection of everyday items like liquorice, mango, grapefruit and St John’s Wort and had to guess which ones had recorded medicines interactions. Dr Sarah Spencer was on hand to explain how grapefruit and St John’s Wort can change the way the liver clears drugs from the body, leading to changes in the medicines effect. She also explained that liquorice has 209 reported drug interactions and that although some are very rare, they can have serious consequences.

Visitors also had the chance to show their creative sides when it came to the Medicines Cabinet activity and the Emotion Wall. After reflecting on what made them feel better, apart from medicines, they drew or wrote about their home remedies. By the end of the day the medicine cabinet was filled with a range of individual panaceas, ranging from “having a chat and a laugh”, a recipe for a ginger and turmeric elixir, listening to music and a picture of ‘a cuddle’. Overall, most people said they felt better when they spent time with family, did something relaxing or had comforting foods and drinks.

The medium of Emoji was used to create a wall of emotions, to express how it feels to take medicines, ranging from smiley expressions to confused looks to glum faces. In total, 70 members of the public contributed to the wall, with accompanying explanations stating feelings such as ‘happy.. they keep me alive’, to ‘concerned… will they really work?’. Photos of the wall were taken by the team and will help shape future research.


I try to resist because I hope the body will heal naturally - then I worry I may be making myself worse

I try to resist because I hope the body will heal naturally - then I worry I may be making myself worse - v. confused.


At the end of a successful day we reflected on the Festival. Public engagement events like this are valuable for many reasons. They allow for a two way and open ended conversation between local communities and universities, allowing for curious consideration of diverse topics in an informal setting. They also create a space in which to explore and challenge perceptions of universities and researchers and can enrich communities and research projects with fresh ideas and perspectives.

Thanks to the organisers of the Festival and all of the people who came to visit our stall – we hope to see you again next year.


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