Four-Step Plan for Senior Medication Safety
The medications we take help us manage a variety of health conditions that become more common as we grow older, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and sleep problems. Yet we might take so many medications that managing them is a health problem itself! Our bodies process substances differently as we age. For example, it can take longer for a medication to be eliminated from the body, which can allow an unsafe level of the drug to build up. Many common drugs can have negative side effects, especially combined with other drugs. We might even end up taking a new medication to address the side effects of an old one.
So, right along with managing our health conditions, it’s also important to manage the medications we take for those and other illnesses.
Here are some suggestions from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
- Take your medications as recommended, with ongoing input from your doctor. Says Dr. Sandra L. Kweder, a medical officer at the FDA, “As a society, we have become reliant on pharmaceuticals to help us attain a longer and higher-quality life. It’s a wonderful success of Western medicine.” However, she cautions, “The goal should be for each of us to access that benefit, but respect that medicines are serious business. To get the most out of them, you should take them with great care and according to directions. Medications that treat chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes typically only work when taken regularly and as directed. You have to take them continuously to maintain control over your condition.” Dr. Kweder warns seniors not to skip doses or change the amount of medication they without consulting their healthcare provider. She says, “Every medicine is really different and is dosed according to what’s been tested.”
- Keep a list of all the medications you take. Especially if a senior takes a lot of different medications, it’s easy to be confused about how, when, and how long to take a particular prescription or nonprescription drug. Make a list of the medications you take, including the name of the medication, the dosage, and how often you take it. Keep your list up to date at all times. And give a copy to the person you list as your emergency contact in documents, so they can tell healthcare personnel what medications you take if you aren’t able to communicate that information.
- Be alert for side effects. When we pick up a prescription, we often receive an information sheet that contains a long list of possible negative side effects of the drug. Don’t ignore those warnings; it’s good to know what might happen so you can recognize a problem right away. Otherwise, you might chalk up symptoms to an illness, or to “just growing older” or even to Alzheimer’s disease! Problems can be caused by a single drug, or the interaction of one medication with another one. That includes prescription drugs, nonprescription preparations, herbals—and don’t forget that alcohol is also a drug.
- Talk to your doctor about all the medications you take. The FDA recommends having your prescription and nonprescription drugs reviewed at least once a year. Report side effects and other questions you have about each medication. And be sure you know why you are taking a particular drug and if it’s still necessary. Studies show seniors might start a medication and then just keep on taking it—even if, in some cases, it is no longer necessary. Especially when a senior sees several doctors, it’s easy for an unneeded drug to be overlooked, or for a senior to take drugs that interact negatively with each other. Dr. Kweder says, “Sometimes, especially if you’re seeing multiple providers, certain questions can fall through the cracks. But there is no such thing as a stupid question about medicine.”
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration