Medication Safety Tips for Older Adults

As we age, our likelihood of having chronic conditions grows. It’s common for older people to be taking multiple prescription drugs to manage or control their conditions. In fact, more than half of all people age 65 and older take four or more prescription drugs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Managing multiple prescriptions, plus any over-the-counter medicines you’re taking, can be challenging. Here are some tips for getting help from both your doctor and your pharmacist.

Questions to ask your doctor

Any time you get a new prescription, it’s important to ask about more than just the basics of dosage and timing, especially if you’re taking other medications. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) suggests you also ask your doctor questions such as:

  • How long will it take this medicine to work?
  • Will this medicine cause problems if I am taking other medicines?
  • Is it safe for me to drive while taking this medication?
  • If I forget to take my medicine, what should I do?
  • What side effects can I expect? What should I do if I have a problem?

The NIA advises, “You will also want to find out whether you’ll need to change or stop taking any of your other prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs while using this new medicine. Mixing some drugs can cause unpleasant and sometimes serious problems.”

At the pharmacy  

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that you think of your pharmacist as another expert who can help you make sure you use medicines—both prescriptions and over-the-counter—correctly. The FDA suggests following these steps before you leave the pharmacy:  

  • Make sure you have the right medicine.
  • Be sure you know the right dose for the medicine and you know how to use it.
  • For liquid medicines, make sure there is a measuring spoon, cup, or syringe. If the medicine doesn’t come with a special measuring tool, ask your pharmacist for one. (Spoons used for eating and cooking may give the wrong dose. Don’t use them.)
  • Be sure you have any information the pharmacist can give you about the medicine. Read it and save it.
  • Get the pharmacy’s phone number and hours, so you can call back for any questions or refills.

Keep track of everything you’re taking

It’s always a good idea to keep a list of all prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines and supplements you take. The NIA provides a simple form you can download or recreate on your own. Keep it updated with dosages and frequency. This can be a simple way to remember everything you’re taking. Just as important, you should bring the list with you whenever you visit a doctor. Any doctor you see needs to know what you’re currently taking, both so they have a complete picture of your wellness and to help prevent problems caused by drugs that should not be mixed. 

Source: The National Institute on Aging and the Food and Drug Administration, adapted by IlluminAge

Categories: Senior Health