Understanding Seniors’ Drug Labels and Why It’s Important to Read Them

Millions of seniors, more than likely your loved ones included, take prescription drugs every day.

According to the latest information available from the Centers for Disease Control, there are 2.6 billion prescription drugs ordered each year. 73% of adults over 60 years use tw0 or more prescription drugs while 37% use more than five.

The most often prescribed for adults are analgesics, antihyperlipidemic and antidepressant medications.

In seniors, the most often prescribed medications were lipid lowering drugs, beta blockers and diuretics.

Polypharmacy poses a great risk for seniors for adverse drug reactions, compliance failures and potential healthcare emergencies.

It is important to read any drug label whether it is an over-the-counter (OTC) remedy or a prescription drug. Most drugs come with patient package inserts that should be read to learn as much as a senior can about the medication. The print is often very small so you may need to help your senior with some inserts.

Not following the instructions can be harmful!

Reading the Drug Label

  1. Read the name of the person intended to use the drug. Be sure you are that person especially if there is more than one person using the medicine cabinet. Your senior should use only those medications specifically prescribed for them.
  2. Carefully read the instructions about how often and how much of the medication to take. Be sure your senior understands, if not, ask the pharmacist. Take only the amount and the number of pills needed – no more and no less. Take them at the specified time, too.
  3. Read the USE BEFORE DATE. Do not take medications after the use by date. If they become inactive, your senior could be at risk for health problems such as high blood pressure or blood sugar that could require medical treatment.
  4. Keep track of the name of drugs, strength and dosages that your senior loved one takes and update it as changes occur. This is to be given to the primary care doctor or healthcare facility in case of an emergency.
  5. Be alert to any special precautions on the bottle such as take with food, take before a meal, sit up 30 minutes after ingestion, don’t mix with alcohol, drink with 8 ounces of water, don’t drive or operate machinery when using, etc. These are placed there for a reason and could lead to trouble if not followed.
  6. Read any storage instructions to be sure the potency is properly maintained. Some drugs need refrigeration or others need to be out of direct sunlight for example.
  7. Be aware of potential side effects. If your senior is experiencing these, contact the prescribing physician listed on the label and continue to take the medication until the doctor is aware. Discontinuing a medication without approval of a doctor could lead to more trouble than the side effects give.
  8. Be careful you don’t run out of prescription medications by reading the refill information. If your senior is on the final refill, be sure to schedule a doctor’s appointment so that a new prescription can be given in time to prevent a lapse in medication.

Your senior may benefit from pill organizers, pill cutters/splitters, day-of-week pill dispensers, electronic pill dispensers that can alert you if they don’t take their pills or smartphone apps that alert them (and you) of missed dosing or low supply.

Prescription drug and OTC labels can be confusing for many seniors, but a little time and assistance to help them stay in control of their medications is time spent wisely.

3 thoughts on “Understanding Seniors’ Drug Labels and Why It’s Important to Read Them”

  1. There is hardly any senior who doesn’t take prescription drugs every day. It is so important to read and understand the drug label. This is a very good article with useful instructions.


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