Medication Safety Tips for Older Adults

The older you get, the more likely you’ll be prescribed multiple medications. And that can be dangerous if you’re not careful, especially if they’re being prescribed by more than one doctor (or if you’re filling them at multiple Kansas City pharmacies). Here are some tips that can keep you safe:

Keep an updated medication list. Make a list of all the medications you’re currently taking. Include any over-the-counter medications you take on a regular basis, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Every time a doctor writes you a new prescription, makes changes to a current prescription, or discontinues one of your medications, update your list. Take your medication list with you every time you go to a doctor’s office, or other medical facility, and show it to the person who checks you in.

Fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. Most major pharmacies have computer programs that will flag any potential drug interactions each time a new medication is entered. So for safety’s sake, it’s best to fill all your prescriptions at one pharmacy. If you need to use multiple pharmacies to save money on your prescription drugs, bring your updated medication list with you each time you go to a drugstore and ask about potential interactions.

Know what you’re taking and why. Whenever you’re prescribed a new medication, ask what it’s for. Make sure you can identify all of your pills and know why you’re taking them. If a nurse brings you a pill you don’t recognize while you’re in the hospital, ask what it is, what it’s for, and who prescribed it. If it’s a generic of one of your regular medications, it may not look the same. And that’s okay. But nurses are busy (and also human) and can make mistakes, so you want to make sure what you’re taking was prescribed for you and is appropriate for your condition.

Develop a system for taking the right medications at the right times. There are a lot of different methods you can use to remind you to take your meds. Examples include day-of-the-week pill boxes with a.m. and p.m. slots, alarms (e.g., alarm clock, phone, watch, pager), automatic dispensing systems (great for caregivers and people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia), or simply placing your pills where you normally eat your meals. If you forget to take one of your medications, don’t double up (unless you’ve been instructed otherwise by your doctor or pharmacist). Just skip that dose and take the next one at your regularly scheduled time.

Talk to your doctor(s). All medications have potential side effects, so you don’t want to take any more than you need. So ask your doctor(s) to review your medication list periodically and see if there’s anything on it you no longer need. Also, if you’re being given more than one medication for the same disease or condition (especially if they’ve been prescribed by different doctors), ask the appropriate specialist if you need both.