Why older adults should review their medications

September 10, 2018 Providence Health Team

After you’re done reading this article, check out more information, guidance and health tips for seniors.

You know the routine:

Step 1: Get your prescription from your physician.

Step 2: Get it filled by your pharmacist.

But do you know about Step 3?

Step 3: Have your medications reviewed once a year or more.

Everyone who takes medication has good reason to periodically ask their pharmacist or health care provider to review the medications they are taking. This is particularly important for older adults.

Your body changes as you age. Your drugs may interact differently, especially if you’ve added or subtracted one recently. And your diet or alcohol intake may have changed.

As the U.S. Food & Drug Administration says: “It is important to be aware that more use of medicines and normal body changes caused by aging can increase the chance of unwanted or maybe even harmful drug interactions.”

Tips for avoiding prescription problems

The National Council on Patient Information and Education offers a checklist to help you maximize the benefits of your medications while avoiding errors:

  • When your provider writes a prescription, make sure you can read it, because if you can’t, it’s possible your pharmacist won’t be able to either. Perhaps your provider can enter your prescription electronically.
  • Make sure you can understand the instructions your health care provider and your pharmacist give you so you can avoid mistakes.
  • When you pick up or are given your medication, confirm that it’s the medication your physician prescribed.
  • If you’re getting liquid medicine, ask your pharmacist for the best device, such as a marked cup or oral plastic syringe, to get the proper dose.
  • Make sure your health care provider and pharmacist know about any allergies or adverse reactions you’ve had to medicines.
  • Read about the potential side effects of your medication on the information sheets that come with your medicine. You may need to recognize them if you experience one later.
  • Make sure all your providers know all the medicines you’re taking, including over-the-counter pain relievers, dietary supplements and vitamins.

The Council also notes that some errors, such as taking someone else’s medication or mismeasuring a dose, most often occur at home. In some cases, a person may take more than one medication with the same active ingredient.

For example, if you’re taking a prescription pain medicine with acetaminophen, and then take an over-the-counter medication that also contains acetaminophen, you could exceed the recommended dose and damage your liver. 

More resources

Good help doesn’t have to be hard to find. Providence’s Optimal Aging program can connect you with service providers to help simplify your life in a number of ways, from mowing your lawn to taking you to appointments. You can also ask a trusted person to review your medications. You can connect with Optimal Aging in Oregon and Southwest Washington, or in the rest of Washington state.

Consumer Reports magazine and the National Community Pharmacists Association conducted the first national Check Your Meds Day last fall. Keep an eye open for the next one, or simply make an appointment with your pharmacist for a “brown bag review” of all the medications you’re taking.

If you need to dispose of expired or unwanted medications, turn them in safely on the DEA’s Take Back Day, October 21, 2018 or find a year-round authorized collection site near you.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality lists “20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors,” many of which involve medications.

If you’re looking for a physician or specialist, you can find a Providence provider near you in our online directory.

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How bad is it to take expired medication?

5 easy ways to lower your blood pressure without medication

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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