Resources: Tips for Healthy Aging at Hebrew SeniorLife

How to Avoid Mixing Medications

Seniors often face numerous health issues, so it makes sense that they are frequently prescribed multiple medications.  A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that almost one-third of seniors take more than five prescription drugs, and more than half rely on a combination of prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements.

While medications can help seniors lead more active and healthy lives, there can be serious risks when they are not taken properly. With multiple prescriptions comes increased risk for overdoses, under-doses, side effects and adverse reactions.

There are unique challenges when it comes to seniors taking their medications. Prescription labels can be difficult or confusing to read, leading to incorrect dosage.  If seniors live alone and face memory problems, they can miss doses or accidentally mix medications that should not be taken together. Unfortunately, the rising cost of medical care can even drive seniors to split pills or skip doses to save money.

Consider the following guidelines to avoid dangerous combinations of prescription drugs.

Understand Your Medication

If your doctor prescribes a medication for a specific condition, it is important to understand why you are taking it. In fact, it is a good idea to ask the following questions before you begin a new prescription. Pharmacists are also good sources to advise you about your medication and ensure you are taking it correctly. 

  • What is the name of the condition this medicine will treat?
  • What is the name of the medicine?
  • How does it treat my condition?
  • What is the name of its active ingredient?
  • Did you check that it doesn’t contain anything I’m allergic to?
  • How long will it take to work? How should I store the medication? Does it need to be refrigerated?
  • Can it be substituted with a less expensive, generic form of the medicine?
  • How will I feel once I start taking this medicine?
  • How will I know if this medicine is working?
  • If I forget to take it, what should I do?
  • What side effects might I expect? Should I report them?
  • Can this medicine interact with other prescription and over-the-counter medicines -- including herbal and dietary supplements -- that I am taking now?

Bring a friend or family member to doctor’s appointments to take notes and ensure you ask these types of questions.

Taking Your Medication

  • Read and save any written information that comes with the medicine.
  • Take the medicine according to the schedule on the label.
  • Don't take more or less than the prescribed amount of any medicine.
  • If swallowing tablets is difficult, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether there is a liquid form of the medicine or whether you could crush your tablets. However, do not break, crush, or chew tablets without asking a health professional first.
  • Get into the habit of checking the expiration dates on your medicine bottles, and throw away medicine that has expired.
  • Try to set and follow a routine for taking your medicines.

Pill organizers, written reminders and alarms are great ways to assist with sticking to your medication routine.

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