Medication management can sometimes be overwhelming for seniors, especially when it comes to managing multiple prescriptions and doses. The Washington Post reports that an increasing number of elderly patients nationwide are on multiple medications to treat chronic diseases, which raises their chances of dangerous drug interactions and serious side effects (see article).
Moreover, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists estimates that more than 34% of seniors are prescribed medications by more than one physician, and 72% use medications they were prescribed more than six months prior.
Seniors must be especially mindful of how to manage medications to avoid serious side effects. Some people become uncertain of which medications to take and when. This is particularly the case when doctors change or add to the list of medications. Some errors include, but are not limited to: taking two or more drugs that heighten each medication’s potential side effects; taking the wrong dosage; taking a brand-name drug and the generic version at the same time; taking prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications without knowing how they interact with one another; and eating certain foods that can have dangerous interactions with medications.
Here are some tips to help seniors manage medications:
- Ask Questions. It is extremely important to take your medications in the exact amounts and at the times prescribed by a physician. Whether it is a hospital stay or doctor’s visit, ask your physician a lot of questions, such as: What is the specific name of the medication and what does it prevent or treat? What should I do if I forget to take a dose? Should I take this medication before, during or after meals? What are the potential side effects? Are there other medications, foods and/or activities I should avoid while taking this medication?Take notes or ask your doctor to write down instructions. Do not stop taking a drug without asking your doctor. And if you are experiencing unexpected side effects, contact your physician immediately. Be sure to explain everything you can about your situation, including any over-the-counter medications or vitamin supplements you may be taking.
- Know What You Are Taking and What It Does. If you take more than one medication, including over-the-counter drugs, they can interact in negative ways. Certain foods or alcohol can also affect medication usage. Some drugs may be potentially harmful if you have certain medical conditions. If you have more than one doctor, or visit a new physician, be sure to tell each one about all of the medications you are taking.
- Document Your Medications. Keep a list of all medications. Record the dosage and how often you are supposed to take them. Keep the list in a convenient place and make copies for your caregiver or a family member to keep on hand.
- Stay Organized. Plastic pill organizers can help sort medications by the day of the week and the time of day. Electronic devices, such as a smart phone or iPad calendars and reminders, can be helpful in organizing and prompting you when to take which medications.
- Label Bottles. It may be helpful to put a label on each of your pill bottles to indicate what it prevents or treats. For example, you could write “Blood Thinner” or “Cholesterol Medicine” rather than going by the medical name for each drug. This may help make things clearer for you.
It can also be helpful to review your medications with your doctor periodically to make sure you still need to take them, and to see if any changes in your regimen are needed. Clear communication between you and your doctor is a key component to a successful medication management program.