Senior Scene: Take care with medications to guard your health


Recently, I was reviewing the literature regarding adverse effect of medication and came across data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the CDC, adverse drug reactions result in more than 700,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms every year. Many adverse drug reactions are preventable.

As we age, many of us will develop long-term health conditions that require multiple medications. In addition, many people also take over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements, and often don’t report these to the practitioner who oversees their medical care.

To lower the chances of overmedication and adverse drug reactions, as well as polypharmacy (the use of multiple medications with an unclear benefit), there are recommendations formulated by the American Geriatric Society’s Health in Aging Foundation that address this issue.

These eight simple rules can help prevent adverse drug effects:

1. Ask before taking an OTC (over-the-counter medication)

You should always check with your health care provider or pharmacist before taking an OTC drug or supplement to avoid negative interactions with the prescription medications you are taking. For example: Some OTC medications can increase or decrease the concentrations of prescription medications you need to take for a medical problem.

2. Make a list of your medications and keep it updated

It is always helpful and safe to maintain an updated list of all medications you take, including OTC drugs, vitamins, supplements, herbal or other remedies. This list should be shared with all your health care providers during appointments.

3. Review your medications

Periodically review your medications with your health care provider and ask if you still need to take each one at the current dosage.

4. Ask questions

Any time a new medication or a new dosage is prescribed for you ask questions. Nothing is wrong with that! You want to know the purpose of the medication, side effects it can cause, how to take the medication correctly, what happens if you miss a dose, and if a generic form of the medicatioin is available.

5. Organize your medications

Keep your medications organized: Use weekly boxes to keep track of your medications. It is wise to refill your weekly medication organizer or pill dispenser the same day each week. This simple procedure will help you avoid accidentally taking too much or too little of a medication.

6. Follow directions

Take medications as prescribed by your health care provider. Do not double the dosage of a medication if you missed a dose. Contact your physician if in doubt as to how to proceed.

7. Report problems

Report problems to your health care provider as soon as you develop a reaction to a newly prescribed medication. Some adverse reactions may require immediate care.

8. Medications don’t’s

Do not share medications: Only take a medication that was prescribed for you.

Do not take expired medications: Check your medications for the expiration date. Older medications should be disposed of. Ask your physician or pharmacist how to do this in a safe way.

Do not discontinue taking medications on your own: If you wish to discontinue a medication, talk it over first with your health care provider.

Do not drink alcohol when you take medications for pain, sleep, anxiety or depression.

These sensible and simple suggestions can help you manage your medications in a safe way.

For your health, take medications safely!

Dr. Maria Camargo is a primary care practitioner with Bassett Healthcare Network. She specializes in geriatrics and is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, American Board of Geriatrics and the American Board of Hospice and Palliative Care.

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