10 Medication Tips To Help Seniors Safely Get the Benefits of Their Drugs

The possibility our seniors are taking more and more prescription drugs increases greatly as they age — and that doesn’t include the over the counter medications taken.

According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, it has been estimated adults 65 to 69 years old take nearly 14 prescriptions per year and adults 80 to 84 take an average of 18 prescriptions per year.

Unfortunately, they estimate some 15% to 25% of drug use in seniors is unnecessary or otherwise inappropriate.

Adverse drug reactions and noncompliance are responsible for 28% of hospitalizations for older adults.

It is true that our seniors need more medicine as the years go on to treat the variety of chronic diseases that affect them as a result of aging.

The statistics above for the overwhelming number of pills they take each day doesn’t include the multitude of over the counter remedies they use, which can be more difficult to measure.

What also increases, besides the number of medications they take, are the harmful effects medications can have on seniors as they get older.

How Seniors’ Bodies Handle Medications

As our seniors age, their bodies change. This natural change can alter the way their prescription drugs are absorbed and utilized. This could affect how quickly the drugs enter our seniors’ blood, break down, get absorbed and exert their influence.

The effects that we expect to occur may be changed — either heightened or lessened — resulting in unsafe outcomes.

Many seniors also experience a change in their body weight as they age, with many losing weight and muscle mass. This could affect the amount of medication that is required to achieve a particular outcome.

If as senior’s body needs less of a medication than the dosage gives them, they could have an adverse drug reaction from excessive amounts. On the contrary, if they need more of a medication due to weight gain or other factors, their medicines won’t help the condition for which they were prescribed.

If their circulation is affected as they age, the amount of medications in their blood may be more than anticipated because the blood no longer circulates as quickly causing the medication to be used by their tissues differently than expected.

Key organs, such as the kidneys or liver, may also be functioning below par, which can affect the amount of medications available to the body. When these organs slow down, the amount of drugs in our seniors’ bloodstream or waste products they create may not be getting cleared as designed. This can lead to side effects and other problems.

Drug Interaction Problems

It is important for our seniors to be aware of the various interactions that affect them and their many medications, including over the counter pills they are taking.

When the amount of medications in the bloodstream becomes altered due to lower body weight, altered circulation or reduced functioning organs, they could be at an increased risk for dangerous interactions unforeseen even by their doctor.

There are several types of drug interactions about which seniors need to be aware so that they can react quickly to prevent serious effects from becoming life threatening.

Here are some interactions for which we should be on the lookout:

Drug-drug interaction

Drug-drug interaction occurs when two or more medications interact with one another, leading to dangerous consequences. Not only can one drug interact with another drug, it can cause it to be inactive or interfere with what it is designed to do.

Examples of such interactions include taking aspirin with a blood thinner, taking an NSAID pill at the same time you take a cold medicine containing NSAID, or taking antacid with antibiotic. Sometimes, when taking drugs that interact together, a symptom not anticipated can occur, such as bleeding other times it just keeps the drug from doing its job.

Over the counter medications can react with prescription drugs and nonprescription drugs.

Food-drug interaction

Food-drug interaction occurs when a food or supplement that is eaten interacts with a medication, causing either an enhanced reaction or no efficacy of the drug resulting in a bad outcome. A food-drug interaction can affect how your body absorbs nutrients as well creating a situation of poor nutrition for seniors.

These are some examples of this type of interaction.

  • gingko supplements interfere with blood thinners
  • grapefruit can reduce the effects of heart medications including statins
  • iron supplements can block the effects of antibiotics
  • dairy products can slow the effect of antibiotics
  • alcohol can slow drug reactions.

Side Effects in Seniors

Side effects from medication mismanagement can affect seniors in many ways. Side effects are not the same as allergies to drugs. They are unanticipated and don’t help the symptoms that the drug was designed to improve.

Seniors can experience detrimental symptoms if they are experiencing an interaction between their drugs, food or alcohol.

Seniors can have problems with the gastrointestinal system, such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. They can get headaches, drowsiness, constipation, dry mouth, blurry vision, low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat or bleeding.

Your senior’s mood can be affected by interactions with their medications.

Problems with their medications can cause unsteadiness, dizziness, confusion and increase the risk of falling.

Senior Medication Safety

There are many ways that you can help your senior take their medications safely. Here are 10 tips for you and them:

  1. Read all drug labels to prevent interactions or inadvertent side effects. Don’t overlook the information on the ‘warning’ section of over the counter drugs.
  2. Learn about their own medications, especially any new drugs, so they know which foods or drugs to be avoided or what activity should be stopped while taking medications.
  3. Be sure your senior’s doctor is fully informed about all over the counter medications your senior currently takes.
  4. Have the current medication list, including over the counter drugs and nutritional supplements, reviewed by your senior’s doctor or pharmacist regularly to ensure there are no potential undesired interactions.
  5. Ask the doctor if your senior’s medication dosages are still appropriate for them if there has been a drop or increase in their weight recently.
  6. Dispose of any expired or unused medications appropriately, find a Drug Take Back location near you to dispose of medications safely.
  7. Ask the doctor if all these medications are still appropriate or if there are non-pharmocological interventions that could replace something.
  8. Follow all directions for taking prescription and nonprescription medications, including amount, time, meals, how much water, driving alerts and other instructions.
  9. Store medications appropriately according to the label. Do they need to be refrigerated, stored in a dry place away from heat or some other place?
  10. Never take medications out of original container so that label and dosing instructions are lost.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Family caregivers know that many of the medications and even the over the counter pills that their senior loved ones take each day are keeping them well. We know we can’t stop them all without serious consequences.

Drugs manage their blood sugar, blood pressure, reduce their cholesterol, help them breathe easier, manage their mood, fight infection and help their memory plus many other helpful interventions.

Our seniors would have a lower quality of life without some of these medications.

While they take these medications, we can take action to keep them as safe as possible. It doesn’t take too much effort to oversee safe medication administration.

Better safe than sorry!

2 thoughts on “10 Medication Tips To Help Seniors Safely Get the Benefits of Their Drugs”

  1. I was in a Pain Management program for Degeneritive Arthritis of the Spine along with severe sciatica problem . They claim my urine test is not showing that I’m taking the .325mg. if Hydrocodone. I take 2 types cholesterol meds. Tricor, Crestor, Elavil, Xanax, Gebatin,& just put on 800mg. Ibuprofin, been on psyche med Buproprion for 10yrs. Could these meds. affect lab results?

    • Sorry to hear that you have been experiencing chronic pain. When we have to take multiple medications as you describe, it can be difficult to avoid interactions and undesired side effects. We suggest you talk with your pharmacist who is an expert with regards to reviewing your personal medication list and your doctor who can help you interpret with your lab results. Good luck!

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