Medications play an expanding role in our lives as we get older. Why is medication safety a particular concern for the elderly? With a growing number of prescription medicines available, there is greater potential for medication mistakes. As we age, we are much more likely to be prescribed more than one kind of prescription medication, and many seniors take three or more. This increases the risk for drug interactions, mix-ups, and the potential for side effects.
It’s dangerous not to follow the directions for taking medications, but some factors can make that hard for your loved one. This is particularly true if a senior lives alone, takes three or more medications (including non-prescription medicine and herbal or dietary supplements), has memory problems, gets prescriptions from more than one doctor, fills prescriptions at more than one pharmacy or uses both online and community pharmacies.
Older adults process and respond to medicines differently than younger people. Age-related changes in the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, and heart are among the contributing factors causing elderly people to be more vulnerable to overdose and side effects. Age-related challenges like memory loss or poor eyesight can make it harder to follow instructions for taking medication. Financial issues may also prevent seniors from filling some prescriptions.
Medication Safety Tips
Have a medication list. As a caregiver, you need to ensure that your loved one’s medication list is up-to-date and that they get into the habit of carrying it with them. In case of an emergency, or an unexpected hospital admission, a complete and up-to-date list will be needed to order additional medication. If it is not available, the hospital will need to contact doctors and pharmacies to determine the medications your loved one is currently taking. Sometimes it may not even be possible to get an accurate list of medications. This would interfere greatly with the health care providers’ ability to provide the best possible quality of care.
Know the purpose of each medication. Seniors need to know the purpose of each medication that they are taking. When a doctor writes a prescription or it is filled by a pharmacist, the senior needs to ask questions. Here are some important ones: what is the medication used for? how does it work? what do I take the medication with? are there any side effects associated with this medicine?
Keep your doctor informed. Over-the-counter products can contain ingredients that react with prescribed medications and affect a patient’s health in negative ways. Every senior needs to let their doctor know if they are taking, or planning to take, any of these types of products.
Don’t ignore reactions. Doctors need to know about any symptoms, no matter how small, that may occur when taking a new medication. The doctor can then advise if the medication should be continued, whether an additional or alternative medication should be prescribed or if the medication should be discontinued.
Follow directions. It is very important to listen to the doctor’s instructions. It is vital take the right dose, at the right time, and abide by any other guidance that the doctor has provided. That’s the best way to make sure that the prescription is effective, and the best way to protect against adverse side effects and illness.