The over 65 population
in America purchases and consumes more medications than any
other age group. According to the Food and Drug
Administration, they purchase more than 30 percent of all
prescription medication and more than 40 percent of over the
counter (OTC) medicines. Estimates are that as many as 90
percent of seniors use either herbal remedies or vitamins.
Drug interactions are especially a concern for seniors. Some
experts estimate that seniors take an average of four to five
medications on a daily basis. If physicians arenít aware of all
medications a senior is taking, there is the potential for dangerous
To guard against an interaction,
make a list of all medications, vitamins and herbal remedies that
your loved one is taking. Also, beside each medication, write the
contact information of the physician who prescribed the medicine.
Some physicians may not realize how many other doctors their
patients are seeing. Take this list to each doctor appointment and
be sure that it is kept current.
Avoid Pharmacy Shopping:
With the rising cost of
medications, many seniors choose to shop for the cheapest price
without realizing the benefits of staying with one pharmacy.
Poly-pharmacy, the ďtechnicalĒ name for pharmacy shopping, is often
a source of confusion and drug interactions. The patient frequently
overlooks the pharmacist as someone who can be of tremendous help to
them. Pharmacists can often spot drug interactions, possible
problems, and can possibly recommend OTC medications that can safely
be taken with prescription medicines. Include the pharmacistís
information on the medication list that you provide toe ach doctor.
When doctors call in a prescription, make sure that they use the
same pharmacy each time.
Throw away Outdated
Some people prefer to keep
medications longer to save money on prescription costs. Donít. Some
medicines degrade over time with exposure to light and heat. Plus,
you may need a different medicine the next time. If you rely on
medications you have at home instead of advice from your physician,
you could be headed for trouble. Be sure to call your physician
before using medication that you have at home.
A special word about antibiotics: These are
meant to be taken in their entirety when they
are prescribed. Saving some for the next
infection may cause serious health problems.
Bacteria may become resistant to antibiotics and
need even stronger medication the next time.
Plus, for the second infection, a different
class of antibiotics may be used in order to
prevent resistance build-up.
Watch for Side Effects:
Seniors especially can be sensitive to new
medications. Ask your doctor about possible side
effects of the medication and how it may react
with other medicines that you are currently
taking. Most pharmacies hand out leaflets with
information about drug side effects and when to
contact the doctor. Read these leaflets and keep
them in a safe place for future reference,
especially if you have to take the medicine
long-term. Caregivers need to be aware of how to
cross-reference these and hand-carry them to the
doctor if necessary to be sure that the right
medication is being prescribed.
Borrowing or Lending Medicine:
A big concern for physicians today is taking
medication intended for someone else. This is a
dangerous practice that needs to be eliminated.
Prescription medication should never be taken by
anyone else than for whom it was intended. Other
individuals have special medical histories and
may also be taking other medicines that can
cause serious drug interactions. By the same
token, never give away your old prescription
What if medication is left over and you want
to donate it? The best advice here is not to
donate it. Most places canít accept medication
donations and will only have to dispose of the
medicine after you leave. If you think they may
be able to use it, call ahead to find out. There
are some outreach projects that are able to
accept donated medications, providing that
specific instructions are followed. Donít assume
that the charity will be able to accept your
medication (or medical supplies even) without
checking with them first.
Take each medicine as prescribed and donít
skip doses to make the medication stretch
further. Skipping doses can cause problems later
when your condition isnít managed properly. If
you need help paying for medications, there are
more than 40 patient assistance programs
available depending on your situation and the
Most medications are listed with
www.needymeds.com. You can look up the name with
either the name brand or generic name. In
addition, it is possible to print the forms
online and take them to your doctorís office for
helping filling them out. You may also need the
doctorís signature to verify the prescription.
These programs generally ask for financial
information to be sure you meet income criteria
and a physicianís signature. Some companies will
ship medications directly to you while others
require that medicines be sent to your doctorís
Check, Check, and Recheck:
Before taking a medication, double-check the
label to be sure that you are taking it
according to your doctorís instructions. Never
rely on your memory, especially since seniors
tend to take so many different medications. You
may have several medications with similar names
and a medication mistake can be costly.
Also, make sure youíre giving the correct
dosage. If there are instructions for ďweaningĒ
off a medication, be sure to follow these
exactly. Medications like oral steroids
may have serious side effects if not taken
correctly when you are trying to stop a
medication that may have been taken long-term.
Are you taking the medication correctly? Is it
an oral medicine or is it an injectable
medicine? An oral medicine that is accidentally
injected could have painful, if not lethal
Finally, make sure youíre giving the medicine at
the right time. There is generally a two hour
window of time that a medicine can be given.
This window starts one hour before the medicine
is prescribed and ends one hour after its time.
For example, if a medicine is prescribed at 2
p.m., you can usually start giving it at 1 p.m.
up until 3 p.m. During this window, you can
usually take the prescribed dosage without
harmful side effects. To be sure that the window
of time applies to your situation, check with
your doctor or pharmacist.
Seniors may have problems with feeling in the
tips of their fingers and may have difficulty
feeling the pills in their hands. Watch for
medicines on the floor around the area where
they generally take their medicines. If there
are several pills on the floor or on the
cabinet, it could be a sign that they are
dropping one of their pills and not getting the
medication they need. Caregivers can develop a
system where they watch them take medicines or
even administer the medications themselves.
Taken properly, all medications have their
purpose. Determining the best way for your loved
one to take medicines may take some work and
documentation on your part in order to develop
the right management system for your household
and comfort level. Be sure to check with your
loved oneís physician and pharmacist if you
suspect a problem or need additional information