Medication Safety for Seniors

As medical technology continues to advance, physicians have access to an ever-growing toolbox of pharmaceutical drugs.

While new medications allow doctors and patients to approach complex medical conditions from new angles, the average senior’s treatment plan has become increasingly complex.  Eighty Seven (68%) percent of American seniors take at least one prescription drug, while 36 percent report taking five or more prescription medicines.

As prescription drug schedules become more complex, seniors and caregivers alike must become more aware of their medication regime. Below are some useful tips to ensure you or your loved one’s prescription medication use remains safe and effective. 

1 – Store all medication in a single location

The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” rings true when it comes to keeping up with a complex schedule of medication.

To avoid gaps in dosage, gather up all prescription drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) medication, vitamins, home remedies and other supplements and store them in a single plastic container.

If you use medication that must be refrigerated, keep the bottles together in a second plastic bin in a designated area of your refrigerator.

2 – Don’t use your medicine cabinet

This might seem counter intuitive, but the bathroom medicine cabinet is one of the worst places you can store medication, as the steam and moisture from showers can impact the efficacy of some medication.

3 – Keep a list of all medications

With all your medications in one (or two) places, now is the time to start reading labels. Create a document with that includes the following information:

  • Name of medication (both the brand or “trade” name and the actual drug name)
  • How often the drug is taken
  • The dosage per pill (usually measured in units like milligrams (mg))
  • Name of prescribing doctor
  • What condition the medication is meant to address
  • Whether the item is meant for long or short-term use

If you or a relative are somewhat tech-savvy, pasting an image of each type of medication on the list can also be a huge help in ensuring medicine stays organized and can easily be identified by another caregiver.

4 – Bring this medication list with you every time you visit your physician (and share it!)

The larger your medical team grows, the more likely you are to receive prescriptions from multiple healthcare providers.  To avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions (or costly redundant prescriptions), be sure to share this information with your doctor during every visit and update any time medications are added or removed.

5 – Track refills

Refilling prescriptions can take time, so waiting until a pill bottle is nearly empty should be avoided at all costs.  When building your medication list, note how many doses are in each refill and make a calendar reminder on your phone for about 2 weeks before you expect to run out. This way you will have ample time to contact your pharmacy and make arrangements for a refill.

6 – Throw out old medication

Expired medication or medication prescribed for conditions you no longer experience should be discarded safely, preferably by returning them to a pharmacy, hospital or medical office.

Keeping old medication can make finding the right medication even more difficult, and expired medication will not have the same effects as a new dose, should the same drug be prescribed at a later time.

7 – Schedule reminders

One of the best tools for avoiding missed doses is a simple 7-day pill box with multiple compartments for AM and PM medication, paired with either mobile phone calendar reminders or verbal prompts by phone call or an in-home caregiver.

8 – Follow directions for use!

Physicians are extremely specific about how and when some medications should be taken and not following these instructions can have serious consequences.

This is particularly relevant to patients who have occasional difficulties swallowing and might be tempted to crush their pills in order to make taking them easier.  This should never be done because some pills are designed to release medication as the whole pill dissolves in the stomach, and taking the pill in powder form can result in the patient receiving too high a dose in too short a period of time.

If you or a loved one are unable to comply with a drug’s instructions for use, you should contact your physician immediately to develop an alternate solution.

SelectCare hopes you found these tips and strategies useful.  Since opening our doors in 1985, we have helped New Yorkers overcome challenges great and small, including medication management, so they can focus on what is most important in life.

Whether you or a loved one needs the assistance of a Registered Nurse to organize medications for the week, or the reassurance and security provided by one of our compassionate home health aides, SelectCare is here to make a difference in your life.

To learn more, call SelectCare today or request a free in-home care guide.