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Taking Medication Seriously

A Guide to Managing Your Prescriptions

Most adults over the age of 65 take more than one medication on a daily basis. In fact, seniors account for 30 percent of all prescriptions written and 40 percent of all over-the-counter drugs sold in the United States. The average number of medications used is 5.9 per person. Under the circumstances, it should not be surprising that the use of multiple drugs can often lead to problems. Adverse drug interactions can be a particularly serious threat to older adults, who react differently to medications than younger people.

This article is designed to help you understand more about your prescriptions and how to avoid unnecessary complications.

Questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist

Your doctor and pharmacist are valuable resources. Here are a few questions you should ask, depending on your particular situation:

  • What is the name of the medicine and what is it supposed to do? (Make the pain go away? Cure infections?)
  • How, at what times, and for how long should the medicine be taken? (Should it be taken before meals, with meals or after meals?)
  • Are there any side effects, and what should be done if they occur?
  • Will this prescription work safely with other drugs and over-the-counter medicines being taken?
  • What should be done if a dose is missed?
  • What foods, drinks or other medicines should be avoided while taking this medicine?
  • What activities should be avoided while taking this medicine?
  • Are there any special instructions that may aid in taking the medicine properly?
  • What are the storage instructions for the medicine? (Should it be refrigerated?)
  • Is there any written information available on the medicine?

Look out for side effects

Some drugs can cause side effects ranging from a mild rash, nausea, headache or drowsiness to severe vomiting, bleeding, hearing or vision impairment. Pay attention to the way your body responds to medicines and be sensitive to side effects. It is also important to note that the aging process causes the body to absorb drugs differently at different stages in a person’s life. When a drug is causing a reaction that is unexpected or severe, contact your doctor immediately!

Help your doctor help you

Give your doctor information that will guide him or her in prescribing the most effective medication for your problem. Your doctor needs to know everything:

  • Current health issues
  • What your symptoms are
  • When your symptoms started
  • How long they lasted
  • Whether they changed over time
  • Whether you have had these symptoms in the past
  • Your other medications
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Your family’s medical history

How to keep track of your medications

Recording your medication intake is a way to keep track of all your medications. Develop a chart or checklist that is simple to use. A container with compartments labeled with the days and times you take medication is another good way to help stay on schedule.

When taking medication, make sure you…

  • Take all of the medication prescribed for you.
  • Drink a full glass of water when taking capsules or tablets.
  • Chew chewable tablets thoroughly and wash them down with water.
  • Shake bottles of liquid medication well before use.
  • Report any new symptoms to your doctor so he or she can determine if the symptoms are being caused by the medication and whether you should stop taking it.
  • Know how your medicine looks. If you’re refilling a prescription and its appearance has changed (color, shape, etc.), ask your pharmacist. There may be a good reason for the new look or it could be that you’ve received the wrong medication.

Never...

  • Take more or less than the prescribed amount.
  • Stop taking a medication suddenly without checking with your doctor, even if you feel better. If you stop just because you feel good, the symptoms and/or the disease may recur.
  • Mix alcohol and medication unless approved by your doctor.
  • Take medicine prescribed for someone else, and never give your medicine to another person. Your symptoms may look the same but you may be suffering from an entirely different problem.
  • Transfer medication from its original bottle to another bottle. These containers are designed specifically to protect drugs.
  • Keep medications that are old or expired.

Always...

  • Keep medications away from children! (Remember that pills look like candy to youngsters.)
  • Destroy leftover medicines and dispose of containers carefully.

Managing multiple medications

As previously noted, it is very likely that an older person may be taking several prescription medications at the same time. Some may come from different physicians who do not know about the other prescriptions.

In fact, two or more drugs, taken at the same time, can interact and affect the way one or the other performs in the body. One drug may neutralize, strengthen or weaken the effect of another, creating a potentially dangerous, even life-threatening situation.

To avoid problems, follow directions on containers and packages carefully. Have all your prescriptions filled by the same pharmacist, and talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your medications or drug interactions.

A word about over-the-counter drugs

Many people mistakenly treat over-the-counter medications differently from prescriptions. In fact, they are serious medications with interaction warnings on the labels that need to be read and carefully followed.

To safeguard your health and receive the maximum benefit from your medications, it is important to consult with your physician and pharmacist and learn all that you can about all of the medications you are taking, including non-prescription drugs and preparations.

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