The over 65 population in
America purchases and consumes more medications than any other age
group. According to the Food and Drug Administration, they purchase
more than 30 percent of all prescription medication and more than 40
percent of over the counter (OTC) medicines. Estimates are that as
many as 90 percent of seniors use either herbal remedies or
Drug interactions are especially a concern for seniors. Some
experts estimate that seniors take an average of four to five
medications on a daily basis. If physicians arenít aware of all
medications a senior is taking, there is the potential for dangerous
To guard against an interaction,
make a list of all medications, vitamins and herbal remedies that
your loved one is taking. Also, beside each medication, write the
contact information of the physician who prescribed the medicine.
Some physicians may not realize how many other doctors their
patients are seeing. Take this list to each doctor appointment and
be sure that it is kept current.
Avoid Pharmacy Shopping:
With the rising cost of
medications, many seniors choose to shop for the cheapest price
without realizing the benefits of staying with one pharmacy.
Poly-pharmacy, the ďtechnicalĒ name for pharmacy shopping, is often
a source of confusion and drug interactions. The patient frequently
overlooks the pharmacist as someone who can be of tremendous help to
them. Pharmacists can often spot drug interactions, possible
problems, and can possibly recommend OTC medications that can safely
be taken with prescription medicines. Include the pharmacistís
information on the medication list that you provide toe ach doctor.
When doctors call in a prescription, make sure that they use the
same pharmacy each time.
Throw away Outdated
Some people prefer to keep
medications longer to save money on prescription costs. Donít. Some
medicines degrade over time with exposure to light and heat. Plus,
you may need a different medicine the next time. If you rely on
medications you have at home instead of advice from your physician,
you could be headed for trouble. Be sure to call your physician
before using medication that you have at home.
A special word about
antibiotics: These are meant to be taken in their entirety when they
are prescribed. Saving some for the next infection may cause serious
health problems. Bacteria may become resistant to antibiotics and
need even stronger medication the next time. Plus, for the second
infection, a different class of antibiotics may be used in order to
prevent resistance build-up.
Watch for Side Effects:
Seniors especially can be
sensitive to new medications. Ask your doctor about possible side
effects of the medication and how it may react with other medicines
that you are currently taking. Most pharmacies hand out leaflets
with information about drug side effects and when to contact the
doctor. Read these leaflets and keep them in a safe place for future
reference, especially if you have to take the medicine long-term.
Caregivers need to be aware of how to cross-reference these and
hand-carry them to the doctor if necessary to be sure that the right
medication is being prescribed.
Borrowing or Lending
A big concern for physicians
today is taking medication intended for someone else. This is a
dangerous practice that needs to be eliminated. Prescription
medication should never be taken by anyone else than for whom it was
intended. Other individuals have special medical histories and may
also be taking other medicines that can cause serious drug
interactions. By the same token, never give away your old
What if medication is left over
and you want to donate it? The best advice here is not to donate it.
Most places canít accept medication donations and will only have to
dispose of the medicine after you leave. If you think they may be
able to use it, call ahead to find out. There are some outreach
projects that are able to accept donated medications, providing that
specific instructions are followed. Donít assume that the charity
will be able to accept your medication (or medical supplies even)
without checking with them first.
Take each medicine as prescribed
and donít skip doses to make the medication stretch further.
Skipping doses can cause problems later when your condition isnít
managed properly. If you need help paying for medications, there are
more than 40 patient assistance programs available depending on your
situation and the programís guidelines.
Most medications are listed with
www.needymeds.com. You can look up the name with either the name
brand or generic name. In addition, it is possible to print the
forms online and take them to your doctorís office for helping
filling them out. You may also need the doctorís signature to verify
the prescription. These programs generally ask for financial
information to be sure you meet income criteria and a physicianís
signature. Some companies will ship medications directly to you
while others require that medicines be sent to your doctorís office.
Check, Check, and Recheck:
Before taking a medication,
double-check the label to be sure that you are taking it according
to your doctorís instructions. Never rely on your memory, especially
since seniors tend to take so many different medications. You may
have several medications with similar names and a medication mistake
can be costly.
Also, make sure youíre giving
the correct dosage. If there are instructions for ďweaningĒ off a
medication, be sure to follow these exactly. Medications like oral
steroids may have serious side effects if not taken correctly when
you are trying to stop a medication that may have been taken
Are you taking the medication
correctly? Is it an oral medicine or is it an injectable medicine?
An oral medicine that is accidentally injected could have painful,
if not lethal consequences.
Finally, make sure youíre giving
the medicine at the right time. There is generally a two hour window
of time that a medicine can be given. This window starts one hour
before the medicine is prescribed and ends one hour after its time.
For example, if a medicine is prescribed at 2 p.m., you can usually
start giving it at 1 p.m. up until 3 p.m. During this window, you
can usually take the prescribed dosage without harmful side effects.
To be sure that the window of time applies to your situation, check
with your doctor or pharmacist.
Seniors may have problems with
feeling in the tips of their fingers and may have difficulty feeling
the pills in their hands. Watch for medicines on the floor around
the area where they generally take their medicines. If there are
several pills on the floor or on the cabinet, it could be a sign
that they are dropping one of their pills and not getting the
medication they need. Caregivers can develop a system where they
watch them take medicines or even administer the medications
Taken properly, all medications
have their purpose. Determining the best way for your loved one to
take medicines may take some work and documentation on your part in
order to develop the right management system for your household and
comfort level. Be sure to check with your loved oneís physician and
pharmacist if you suspect a problem or need additional information
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