Prescription medication Safety for Seniors

Overturned bottle  of pills spilled onto table

Studies indicate that one of every 10 seniors will be hospitalized due to an adverse reaction to drugs, and that the danger of an adverse reaction becomes more likely with increasing age. Elderly people are especially at risk if they live alone, have memory problems, or if they take multiple medications.

The National Center for Health Statistics reports that one-third of people age 60 and older take at least five medications every day. It’s difficult for elderly people to keep track of multiple medications, and even your loved one’s physician may not be aware, especially if medications are prescribed by different providers.

Adverse reactions associated with misuse of prescription drugs may be mild or severe. Symptoms, which vary widely, can include problems with digestion, balance, sleep, mental alertness, hearing and vision.

If your elderly loved one depends on prescription medications, monitor use of the drugs closely to prevent adverse reactions and dangerous, possibly deadly outcomes.

  1. Make an appointment with your loved one’s primary medical provider to discuss medications at least once every year. Ask that the appointment be set aside solely for the purpose of reviewing medications; a regular appointment—often only 15 to 20 minutes—doesn’t allow enough time. Take all of her medications to the appointment, including over-the-counter meds, herbal products and vitamins.
  2. If your loved one’s physician prescribes a new drug, ask the specific purpose of the drug and how long your family member should take the medication. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. If your loved one doesn’t hear or understand, ask the physician or pharmacist to repeat or clarify the instructions.
  3. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist before your elderly family member adds a new over-the-counter medication to her drug regimen. Seemingly safe drugs such as antacids, sleep aids, cold medications or vitamins can interact negatively with prescription medications. Similarly, don’t assume that herbal products are always safe. They sometimes have powerful effects on the body, often with unexpected outcomes.
  4. If possible, use the same pharmacy for each prescription. Having records at a single pharmacy makes it easier to keep track of your loved one’s medication regimen and the potential of negative interactions.
  5. Notify your elderly family member’s physician immediately of any adverse reaction, even if the reaction seems mild. Signs of problems can include diarrhea, upset stomach, constipation, pain, forgetfulness, dizziness or skin irritation. You can also call the National Poison Control Center’s hotline at 1-800-222-1222 any time of day.
  6. Keep drugs in their original containers. Be sure your elderly family member never shares medications with another person. Dispose of medications when they are expired or no longer needed, but always check with your loved one’s doctor before stopping a prescribed medication.
  7. Help your elderly family member keep his drug schedule organized with a calendar or pillbox. Label the box carefully with medications for morning, noon, afternoon, evening, etc. Remind your elderly family member to turn on the lights, wear his eyeglasses, and read the label carefully.