Whether you’re just starting a new drug or have been taking prescriptions for decades, having an effective plan to manage medications is essential for staying healthy in older age.
While age alone isn’t a risk for adverse reactions, common age-related changes like weight loss, decreased body fluid and increased fatty tissue, can be dangerous for individuals taking multiple medications for different conditions. These physical changes can alter how our bodies respond to certain drugs, making it especially important for seniors to monitor possible side effects, interactions or changes while taking prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
Recent studies have shown 87 percent of seniors are taking at least one prescription drug, with about 36 percent taking five or more medications – and adverse reactions to medication account for an estimated 10 to 30 percent of hospital admissions for older adults.
Thankfully, the steps to safe medication management are simple. Here’s what we recommend to build better habits and avoid common medication mistakes:
1. Store medications properly
Most medications should be kept in a cool, dry place because heat and moisture can negatively affect drugs. Some places are more suited for storage, while others simply aren’t. Even though bathroom cabinets are a popular choice for storing medications, constant fluctuations in humidity and heat could actually be detrimental to the safety of your prescriptions.
Keeping prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and different vitamin supplements in different locations around the house can also be problematic for keeping up with expiration dates or avoiding a wrong dose. A smarter system is to gather all supplements – prescription or otherwise—and store them in one location. This makes it easier to know exactly what you’re taking every day and makes it easier to keep up with refills. For an even more organized approach, store current medications in one clear bin and keep backup supplies and lesser-used drugs separated.
2. Keep an updated medication list
Put together an accurate list of all medications to bring with you to every doctor’s appointment, including generic and brand names, dosages, dosing frequency and why you’re taking the drug. Even if it seems tedious, this is especially important for those taking multiple drugs or dealing with several prescribers and can help your doctor or pharmacist identify possible interactions.
A thorough list can make it easier to keep track of dosing changes or new side effects so you and your doctor and adjust any treatment plans as needed. Make sure to update your list regularly and try to keep several copies on hand for any upcoming appointments!
3. Double-check every label
Get into the routine of reviewing expiration dates, possible side effects, refill due dates and any warnings printed on the label. If instructions on the label are unclear, get in touch with the doctor or pharmacy to include a better explanation or direction on how and when to take your medication.
For example, if you have multiple medications with directions to take “as needed,” it may be harder to tell if you have multiple prescriptions treating the same problem. Instead, have a doctor refill drugs with more details, so you can identify which prescriptions are “as needed for pain” or “as needed for sleep.”
4. Ask as many questions as you need
It’s okay to be concerned about changing or starting new drugs, especially if the side effects sound unmanageable. Always confirm with a prescriber or pharmacist whether your dose is age-appropriate. If you’re particularly sensitive to certain prescriptions, you may want to ask if what you’re taking is the best option, especially if you’re concerned about drug interactions.
If the prescriptions are starting to stack up, consider scheduling an appointment to make a deprescribing plan where you can start to reduce the overall number of medications you’re taking if it is appropriate. If you’re feeling uncertain, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion. Oftentimes, different physicians have different opinions or philosophies about treatment. If you’re unsure whether your doctor has made the best plan for you, follow up with another provider or specialist to get their input on treatment options or alternatives.