Two-thirds of older Americans are diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses. Living with one or more health conditions is a burden. But their treatment plans can also be complicated and overwhelming for both the patient and an in-home caregiver.
If you have been prescribed multiple medications—or if you’re caring for someone who has been prescribed multiple medications—you have an important responsibility to understand exactly what each medication is for, when it should be taken, and how to avoid medication errors. Use the actionable steps in this guide for successful medication management for seniors.
Understand how your response to treatment changes as you age
As people age, their response to medication changes. A person could have taken the same medication twice before with no side effects, but suddenly develop an adverse reaction the third time. Aging nervous systems, kidneys, and livers as well as fluctuating weight and metabolism are all contributing factors to a drug’s efficacy. What worked for patients in their 20’s may not work as well (or at all) in their 60’s.
Understanding the current condition of your health (or your patient’s health) as well as a detailed medical history is critical to the success of a treatment plan. It is important to raise questions or concerns to a doctor if you notice anything unusual (like persistent or worsening side effect) during treatment.
Decipher prescription labels
There’s a lot of information on a prescription label. Here are a few crucial elements to understand:
- Contact information for the pharmacy, patient, and doctor
- Drug name, strength, and manufacturer information
- Instructions (example: take one capsule daily by mouth)
- Prescription information (including when the medication was prescribed and filled, how many doses or pills were provided, how many refills are available, and when the medication expires)
- Federal caution statement (i.e., warnings against taking other people’s prescriptions)
A medication error (like missing a dose or overdosing) can be dangerous and sometimes fatal. Unfortunately, keeping track of multiple medications is almost always complicated. Here’s how to simplify polypharmacy (or the simultaneous use of multiple medications):
- Fill all prescriptions at the same pharmacy if possible. This streamlines refills and helps you build a healthy relationship with your pharmacist.
- Request a medication review with a pharmacist to learn which medications can be taken at the same time or how long you have to wait between doses.
- Write down a list of medications, including the drug name and dose of each prescription and over-the-counter medicine.
- Set an alarm to help you remember to take (or administer) medication at the same time everyday.
- Read the complete medication guide, don’t hesitate to ask questions to clarify jargon or fuzzy details, and keep prescription packaging in case you need to reference it later.
- Prepare an action plan for a medication error by asking the doctor what could happen if you (or your patient) miss a dose or overdose.
Make the most of doctor’s appointments
Take advantage of each appointment with the doctor. This time is usually short, so it may be helpful to write questions or discussion topics beforehand. You should feel empowered to ask questions, raise concerns, and provide feedback to the doctor.
Perhaps the two most important questions to ask at each appointment:
- How will this new medication help the condition it’s been prescribed for?
- Are there any medications that are no longer necessary to take?
The fewer medications you need to take (or administer), the simpler medication management will be.