Prevent Ineffectiveness & Dangerous Errors with Medication Management

Each day in America millions of seniors are taking their medications – some morning, noon and night.

Medications may be needed to manage a chronic disease or to treat an acute illness, such as an infection.

Each day family caregivers worry about whether their senior loved ones are taking their medications safely.

We worry about whether senior loved ones have remembered to take their medications, if they have taken them correctly and whether they are going to suffer side effects, especially if they are taking multiple medications.

While no laughing matter, the number of medications needed by some seniors has become easy fodder for comedy.

The serious side of the numbers of medications needed is the risk of mismanagement, which can bring with it consequences ranging from loss of effectiveness to – in the extreme – death.

First some facts about our senior loved ones and their medications.

Senior Medication Facts

Did you know…

  • Seniors take 34% of all medications prescribed; 5 out of 6 adults over 65 take at least one prescription drug.
  • Seniors purchase 30% of all over the counter medications sold.
  • Seniors take between two and seven prescription medications daily; the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recognizes that a senior is at risk when they take nine or more prescription drugs.
  • According to a recent survey of 17,000 Medicare beneficiaries, 40% of patients reported taking five or more prescription medicines.
  • In 2012 there was an estimated 336,000 seniors misusing pain medication resulting in a 50% increase in emergency room visits for drug misuse.

As overwhelming as these statistics may seem, they don’t even include the number of supplements, herbal products, and over the counter medications seniors take without anyone – especially their healthcare team – knowing. There are also home remedies and concoctions many seniors continue to use that their mothers or grandmothers used in years past.

These all contribute to concerns about safety and effectiveness, especially considering all the combinations seniors may be taking with nobody checking to see how they all act when taken together.

It is important that your senior learns all he can about his medications (and you too). Knowing all you can may help prevent interactions or ineffective disease management as well as adverse reactions.

It is a good idea to keep the Poison Control phone number handy in case of any medication-related emergency. That number is 1-800-222-1222.

Medication Management Tips

Here are some reminders about medication administration to help you help your senior loved ones take their medications properly to reduce possible incidents.

  1. Keep a list of all medications, dosages, and schedules. Have your senior carry their medication list with them in case of emergency. There are a number of smartphone and tablet apps or you could use a cloud storage application such as Dropbox. Don’t forget to update it whenever any changes are made. You should also have their updated medication list available or carry one yourself in case you need it in an emergency or if they forget theirs when at the doctor or pharmacy.
  2. Know the names of all your senior’s medications, if possible both the trade name and the generic name.
  3. Know why the medication was prescribed – what disease or illness.
  4. Be aware how each medication should be stored and be sure it is stored correctly. Some medicines need to be refrigerated or stored in a particular temperature. Keep medications in a dry location and away from the sink, bathroom steam or hot appliances like the stove.
  5. Always ask your senior’s doctor or pharmacist if there are any interactions that could occur. There may be drug to drug interactions, food to drug interactions or supplement to food/medication interactions which can affect the medications effectiveness. Be sure the doctor and pharmacist know about all the medications being taken, including over the counter medications and supplements which may interact. It is important to remember and stress with your senior loved one that herbs, supplements and even some foods can lead to dangerous interactions. They need to tell their doctor and you if they are taking any non-prescription items that could impact their health.
  6. Be sure your senior is taking his medications at the prescribed time of day; some are intended to be taken before or after meals or first thing in the morning.
  7. Some medications require taking with foods, certain foods or on an empty stomach. Does the medication need to be taken with food or after eating? Does it need to be taken with water only or is milk to be avoided? It will tell you on the label but it you remove the pills and put them in a pill reminder this information could be overlooked or forgotten.
  8. Read the package inserts as available so that you and your senior are fully aware. If you don’t understand the information, talk with your pharmacist to get a clarification.
  9. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are any side effects to be aware of before your senior takes a new drug. Continue to have your senior take medications as prescribed if she experiences unexpected effects (unless the doctor has directed otherwise) and contact the doctor immediately.
  10. Find out if it is OK to drink alcohol when taking medications – if not, ensure your senior does not.
  11. Keep all medications in their original containers, removing cotton balls if added.
  12. Keep all medications out of the reach of children or grandchildren, out of sight and locked if possible to prevent accidents.
  13. Continually read the label for expiration dates and dispose of expired medications properly, though not down the toilet as it can contaminate water supply. It is ok to throw in trash, preferably mixed into coffee grounds (or other type of trash) and placed in plastic bags. If desired, keep expired or unneeded medications safe and return to pharmacist or community “give back” event.
  14. Contact your senior’s doctor if they have any strong reaction or experience new symptoms when taking a medication.

It can be a lifesaver for seniors to have access to prescription medications but they have to be taken correctly to be effective in treating chronic diseases. If taken incorrectly, serious effects can occur.

By learning all you can and following the tips above, you can keep not only your senior healthy but also visiting children safe too.

3 thoughts on “Prevent Ineffectiveness & Dangerous Errors with Medication Management”

  1. Great post Barry! Th amount of medication being prescribed is only increasing too. I often wonder if our doctors are actually noting all the different pills people are taking or if they are just in it for a quick fix to get people to stop complaining. Just curious….not judging anyone here.


    • Good to see you, Aaron. You have a good point, though I think more often it’s a lack of communication that creates problems, sometimes the question not being asked and other times an incomplete answer being given.

  2. As seniors age, it is almost inevitable for most that they will need to take several, if not many, medications. This article is very powerful in stressing the importance for seniors to take their medications safely and effectively, and the roles that friends and family can play to help seniors be safe and healthy.

    Seniors and their families may want to consider pill reminders and dispensers to lower the risk of under or over medication issue. To keep our older family members living safely in their home, families should consider getting an automatic medication dispenser or a senior alert device to support aging safely in place

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