Medication safety for the elderly

As our population ages, the role of medication becomes increasingly important for helping our seniors live longer and more active lives. However, as the number of medications they need grows for some elderly patients, so do safety concerns. While medication for individuals of any age should be handled safely, the elderly – especially those living at home – have specific areas of medication concern directly related to age and mental acuity:

As people grow older they are more likely to be prescribed more than one medication, with many seniors taking more than three. As the number of medications prescribed increases there is a corresponding increase in the risk of drug interactions, side effects, and dosage mistakes:

  • Age-related issues such as poor eyesight and memory loss can make it more difficult to read and understand medication instructions, compounding risk
  • Financial concerns may prevent some seniors from filling prescriptions, or reduce the dosage to extend their prescriptions
  • The effects of aging can cause older adults’ bodies to process and respond to medications differently than young people. Age-related changes to the liver, kidneys, heart, and central nervous system can all contribute to overdoses and side effect vulnerability.

It’s important for both the elderly and their caregivers to be aware of two kinds of drug interactions that can occur: drug/drug and food/drug. This can include products some people may not think of as drugs, such as alcohol, herbal remedies, and nutritional supplements. Likewise, medicines can interact with foods that seem innocent enough. For example, grapefruit juice should not be consumed with certain blood pressure-lowering medicines and dairy products should be avoided with some antibiotics and antifungal medications.

Here are some tips to remember for the three places where interactions with medication occurs:

The doctor’s office
Whether you’re a patient or a caregiver, it helps to be prepared to talk with the doctor:

  • Make a list of medication questions you want to ask
  • Bring an up-to-date list of all prescription and non-prescription medications being taken
  • Ask for an annual review of all medications – bring them all to the doctor’s office so he or she can see exactly what’s being taken and how
  • Make sure you understand the medication name, dosage instructions, and any potential side effects

The pharmacy
The pharmacist is a wealth of knowledge and can be a valuable source of information about prescriptions, their effects, and interactions. That’s why it’s important to:

  • Bring your complete list of medications (see above) when a prescription is filled to ensure there will be no adverse interactions
  • After getting a prescription, make sure it matches the name and dosage prescribed by the doctor
  • Confirm the directions, warnings, and interaction issues with the pharmacist
  • Make sure the medication is packaged in such a way that the person using it can access it easily

At home

  • Read all the medication information
  • Immediately report any side effects to the doctor
  • Make sure the patient’s complete prescription and non-prescription medication list has been updated and provide copies to family members and other caregivers
  • Use a pill organizer to ensure proper dosages are taken at the proper times

Medication is meant to help people lead happier, healthier, and longer lives, but if they are not safely managed medications can do more harm than good. If you have questions or concerns, be sure to voice them to the proper caregivers and healthcare professionals to ensure safety and peace-of-mind.

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