As we get older, we often need to take more and more medications. While medications often help us live longer and healthier lives, they can also be dangerous if not taken properly. We recently spoke with Melissa Inthirath, Executive Director, ACO & Drug Procurement at Reliant to learn more about medication safety for older adults, particularly those age 65+.
Why is medication safety so important for older adults?
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 be a particular 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 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 there 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. Seniors – and everybody, really – should always be aware of food-drug interactions by reading the information that comes with their prescription and contact their healthcare provider or pharmacist if they have any questions.
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.