Medication And Older Adults

If you care for an aging loved one, medication safety needs to be one of your primary concerns.

Of all the problems our loved ones face when taking medication, drug interactions are probably the most dangerous. This is especially problematic for older adults, as they are more likely to be taking more than one drug at any given time.

There is evidence that older adults tend to be more sensitive to drugs than younger adults are, due to their generally slower metabolisms and organ functions. As people age, they lose muscle tissue and gain fat tissue, and their digestive systems, liver, and kidney functions slow down. All this affects how a drug will be absorbed into the bloodstream, react in the organs, and how quickly it will be eliminated.

To guard against potential problems with drugs, you need to be knowledgeable about the medications that your loved one takes, and how they will make him or her feel. Don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor or pharmacist about questions and problems that your loved one has with a medication.

Avoiding Trouble With Medications|

If the doctor prescribes any medication for your loved one, it’s up to both of you to make sure it’s safe. Before your loved one begins taking any new medicines, ask the doctor if there are any other treatment options available, such as changes in diet or exercise. Also, find out exactly how long the doctor expects your loved one to have to use the medication. It is important to find out as much as possible by asking questions and reading the package inserts. The doctor and pharmacist should alert your loved one to possible interactions between drugs, how to take the drugs properly, and whether a less costly generic drug is available.

Medication Safety Tips

  • Make sure that all of the doctors treating your loved one are aware of the drugs that other doctors have prescribed, as well as any over-the-counter drugs that your loved one might be taking. Ask your loved one’s primary care physician to coordinate his or her medication.
  • Keep track of any new symptoms or side effects. If you loved one is experiencing side effects, ask the doctor if there is a different drug that he or she can try.
  • In order to prevent mistakes, you or your loved one should read the label every time he or she takes a medicine. Be sure you both understand the timing and dosage prescribed.
  • Keep track of your loved one’s medications by using a calendar, pillbox, or weekly medicine record chart.
  • If your loved one experience dizziness, constipation, upset stomach, sleep changes, diarrhea, incontinence, blurred vision, mood changes, or a rash after taking a drug, inform his or her doctor right away.

Over-The-Counter Medications

Although mild and relatively uncommon, interactions involving over-the-counter drugs can produce unwanted results or make other medicines less effective. It’s especially important to know about drug interactions if youre loved one is taking prescription and over-the-counter drugs at the same time.

Some drugs can also interact with foods and beverages, as well as with health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, and high blood pressure. Here are a few drug interaction cautions for some common over-the-counter ingredients (Note: This list is not complete. Check with a doctor before your loved one takes any new over-the-counter medications):

  • Your loved one should avoid alcohol if he or she is taking antihistamines, cough or cold products with the ingredient dextromethorphan, or drugs that treat sleeplessness.
  • Your loved one shouldn’t use over-the-counter drugs that treat sleeplessness while taking prescription sedatives or tranquilizers.
  • If your loved one is taking a prescription blood-thinner, or suffers from diabetes or gout, check with a doctor before he or she takes any products that contain aspirin.
  • Your loved one shouldn’t use laxatives when he or she experiences stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Your loved one shouldn’t use any medicines that contain the ingredient phenylpropanolamine (PPA) if he or she is being treated for high blood pressure, depression, heart disease, diabetes, or thyroid disease, or if he or she is taking other medicines containing PPA.
  • Unless directed by a doctor, your loved one shouldn’t use a nasal decongestant if he or she takes a prescription drug for high blood pressure or depression, or if your loved one has heart disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, or prostate problems.

Medicine Cabinet Checkup

  • Always store medicines in a cool, dry place.
  • Be sure to look through your loved one’s medicine supply at least once a year.
  • Throw away any medicines that have reached their expiration date.
  • To make sure no one takes the wrong medicine, keep all medicines in their original containers.

Strategies For Special Needs

A number of strategies can make taking medication easier for your loved one.

  • If your loved one has arthritis, ask the pharmacist for an oversized, easy-to-open bottle.
  • If your loved one has vision problems, ask for large-type labels. If these are not available, your loved one can use a magnifying glass and read the label under bright light.
  • Work with your loved one to develop a drug-taking routine. Take into account whether the pill works best on an empty or full stomach, and whether the doses are spaced properly.
  • To simplify drug taking, always ask for the easiest dosing schedule possible—just once or twice a day, for example.
  • If your loved one suffers serious memory impairments or confusion, you or another responsible person should supervise your loved one’s medications.

Cost Cutting Ideas

  • For a new prescription, don’t buy a whole bottle but ask for just a few pills. Your loved one may have side effects to the medication and have to switch. If you buy just a few, you won’t be stuck with a costly bottle of medicine your loved one can’t take.
  • For ongoing conditions, medications are often less expensive in quantities of 100. Only buy large quantities of drugs if you know that your loved one’s body tolerates them well. But be sure you can use all of the medication before it reaches its expiration date.
  • Call around for the lowest price. Pharmacy prices can vary greatly. If you find a drug cheaper elsewhere, ask your regular pharmacist if he or she can match the price.
  • Ask for a senior citizens discount.
  • Ask for a generic equivalent.
  • Get drug samples free. Pharmaceutical companies often give samples of drugs to physicians. Tell the doctor you’d be happy to have them. This is especially convenient for trying out a new prescription.
  • Buy store or discount-brand over-the-counter products. Ask the pharmacist for recommendations.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from Medication and Older Adults, (FDA) 97-3225, developed by the United States Food and Drug Administration.


Nonprescription Medicines: What’s Right For You? developed by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

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