Complications with medications are a major problem for many seniors across the country. A few months ago my 66 year old mother had surgery to remove a bunion. She was in immense pain when I called and had taken additional medication to ease her suffering (from a prescription used for a previous problem). Suffice it to say, she became terribly sick to her stomach and our phone call was cut short. Now this is by no means just a senior problem, but nearly three in 10 people between ages 57 to 85 use at least five prescriptions, which leaves more room for drug interaction, side effects, and misuse.
Here are some tips to ensure that you are taking the appropriate precautions while using prescription medications:
- Educate yourself – Make a list of every medication you are taking, what it is for, if there is a time of day in which it should be taken, the duration for which it should be taken, and the prescribing doctor’s name and phone number. If you are taking additional OTC drugs or supplements, add those to the list, too. In case of emergency it will be crucial for the medical staff to know what is in your system to avoid drug interaction or to keep you on your routine if you are admitted to the hospital. Furthermore, include any medication allergies and adverse effects you may have had so that an alternate medication can be prescribed.
- Side effects – Seniors are at a higher risk for experiencing side effects since aging makes the body more susceptible and most seniors take multiple medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what to look for and contact him or her immediately if you have a concern. Also, medications usually come with several printouts about various names a drug may have, how to use it, a list of side effects, precautions to take, drug interactions, what to do in case of overdose, and how to store it. Keep this important information in a special place in case you need it.
- Better safe than sorry – If you miss a dose, read the accompanying paperwork to see if you should take your dose immediately or if you need to wait until your next dose is due. Furthermore, don’t take your medication in the dark in case you grab onto the wrong bottle. And one more thing: just because a bottle has “herbal” on it doesn’t mean it is okay to take with prescription drugs. Ask your doctor or pharmacist first to prevent dangerous interactions.
- What to avoid – The Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults has been a leading source of information about the safety of prescribing drugs for seniors for over 20 years. To help prevent medication side effects and other drug-related problems in older adults, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) has updated and expanded this important list of drugs that may cause more harm than help for the elderly. HealthinAging.org has a complete listing of these potentially harmful medications. However, there are some exceptions for doctors prescribing medications on this list (such as in palliative care to ease suffering), so discuss with your doctor your concerns before stopping any treatment.