As we get older, we tend to take more and more medications. While these medications often help us live longer and healthier lives, they can also be dangerous if not taken properly. We recently spoke with Melissa Inthirath, Senior Manager of Drug Management Services at Reliant to learn more about medication safety for seniors.
Why is medication safety so important for seniors?
With seniors, we know that age-related changes in the liver, kidneys, heart and central nervous system can cause them to be more vulnerable to drug interactions, medication overdose and side effects. So for those over 65 especially, medication safety should always be a concern.
What’s the biggest problem seniors have regarding their medications?
One of the biggest problems is what we refer to as “polypharmacy,” which is when a patient is taking multiple medications at the same time to manage a variety of health problems. Many patients have multiple prescriptions from different doctors. Plus some patients take over-the-counter medications and don’t always use the same pharmacy. In addition, many pills look alike and drug names can also be confusing. With so much going on, it’s easy for a simple mistake to turn into a big problem.
Do you suggest a certain “system” to help someone who is elderly keep their medications in order?
Having an updated medication list is really important. We recommend that this list include the medication names, dosages, directions, and reason for taking each drug. Over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements should also be included on this list. There are a lot of great tools to help folks who have difficulty remembering to take their medications at home. Pill organizers, pill timers, and aligning your usual daily routine with the time you need to take your medications are all ways to help patients stay on track with taking their meds.
Are their certain foods people should avoid when taking medications?
Yes. For example, grapefruit juice should not be taken with certain blood-pressure medications and dairy products should be avoided when taking some antibiotics and antifungal medications. Patients should always be aware of food-drug interactions and contact their doctor or pharmacist if they have any questions.
I’ve heard of something called a brown-bag review. Do you recommend that?
Absolutely! A brown-bag review is when you gather all of your prescription and over-the-counter medications into a bag, and bring that bag to a scheduled appointment with a pharmacist. During this appointment, the pharmacist will review all of the medications and confirm that your medication list is up-to-date. This is a great time to ensure that the patient has a good understanding of their treatment plan, and also for patients to ask any questions they may have regarding their medication therapy. It’s also a good time to review if any medications are no longer needed.
Any other recommendations?
Work closely with your medical providers and be prepared to take an active role in your medication treatment plan. If you feel you might get confused or not understand completely when talking to your doctor or pharmacist, ask a close family member, a friend, or relative to come along with you. They can help you take notes or ask questions. The more everyone is aware of what medicines you are taking (and why) the better.