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Tips for Seniors to Avoid Complications with Medications Christina Morales

December 9th, 2014

Complications with MedicationsComplications 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 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.


  1. Jane Klein December 11, 2014

    Thank you for bringing this information to the forefront. I would like to extend a challenge to physicians and rehab/hospital discharge planners to discuss responsible medication management with their patients. Reconciling and ensuring the accuracy of medications Is vital at every point of care and doubly important just before and during patient discharge

    “Some of my senior patients have difficulty either managing or remembering to take their medications, which is what doctors struggle with every day.

    The owners of Personal Med Management are helping my patients with a compassionate in-home medication management program. The services they are providing are alleviating many extra visits and phone calls to my office and the patients seem to be less confused and happier. Communication with the patient’s medical providers, family members and aids are a vital component of their services. This offers the patients and their loved ones peace of mind.”

  2. Geoff Parsons December 12, 2014

    Thank you for a useful and valuable post. as a non-professional I offer these points:
    1 if on on-going medicines, particularly multi-medicenes, take up systemic reviews which are available from NHS GPs,
    2 similarly, your pharmacist offers reviews of your medicine usage
    3 become an “anti-biotics guardian” to help combat drug resistance
    4 if you have difficulty managing or remembering you drug regime you may be able to find simple aids including assistive technological devices
    5 For future emergency/crisis event keep in your fridge a plastic pot (a charity provides them) with a list of prescribed medicines and in-date samples so that emergency ambulance paramedics will find them.

  3. Hugh Greenidge December 12, 2014

    it sounds to me like Personal Med Management is doing an excellent job keeping some seniors from mismedicating themselves.
    Surely there should be a responsible party that’s taking the seniors to the MD appointments. Encourage their involvement though I know it’s not easy. They too can take a little time to be trained to fill pill boxes and monitor mom and dad when staff is not available. Encourage them to be a part of the team.
    With all the electronics used today that governs our lives, surely there’s a gadget that can be used to remind mom and dad at specific times to take their meds. Even with this, there should be oversight.
    Remove old Meds not on their current profile to reduce confusion.
    If mom and dad qualify, there should be a day program they can attend so they can get that oversight which should include medication assistance.
    There are alternatives available.

  4. Richard Apple December 15, 2014

    Thanks for raising this important issue. In follow up to Jane’s comment, physicians and discharge planners are already required by Joint Commission to reconcile medications at critical points in treatment, including discharge. However, it is often neglected or done in a way that doesn’t inform the patient or their family. As assertive consumers, I encourage filing a complaint with Joint Commission if the patient/family is not involved in a meaningful medication reconciliation discussion at discharge. I would also bring it to the attention of the health care organization administration. A bad outcome absent this medication reconciliation process would also be basis for contacting an attorney.


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