Follow these tips to help your aging parent prevent medication-related health hazards:
1. Review your aging loved one’s medications with their doctor. Write down the names and dosages of all medications they take and how frequently they take them. Include over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and herbal supplements, too. If your parent sees multiple doctors, it may be helpful to write down who prescribed each medication and what it treats.
Go over this list at your next appointment with your parent’s primary care doctor. The more information your loved one’s doctor has, the more accurately they can pinpoint any potential adverse effects or drug interactions.
2. Ask questions and read medication labels. If your parent is starting a new drug, ask the doctor questions, such as how and when to take it, and if it should be taken with or without food. Read the medication label thoroughly to understand dosages and learn about important interactions and side effects. Reading medication labels is important for both prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. If you have any questions, call your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist.
3. Learn about possible drug interactions. In addition to reading medication labels, ask your loved one’s doctor if certain drugs on their list shouldn’t be taken together. Note that over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements may also interact with some medications, so include those when reviewing your list.
4. Understand potential side effects. Ask the doctor about possible side effects before your parent starts taking a new drug. Check in with your loved one, and ask if they’ve noticed any differences in how they’re feeling since starting the new medication. Certain drugs may affect seniors in different ways, including changes in weight, sleep patterns, hunger, or balance. Tell the doctor if your parent is experiencing any side effects.
5. Ask if the dosage is age-appropriate. The way the body processes various drugs changes with age. This means seniors can be more or less sensitive to certain medications. They may also experience adverse effects. Double-check with your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist to ensure that the dosage on the prescription is appropriate for their age. Also ask if they recommend starting with a lower dose.
6. Be aware of medications deemed unsafe for seniors. The Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults, put together by the American Geriatric Society, is a list of medications that older adults should avoid or use with caution. Some pose a higher risk of side effects or interactions, while others are simply less effective. For instance, older adults may need to avoid commonly prescribed sedatives like diazepam (Valium). Ask your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist if any of their medications are on the caution list.
7. Make your loved one aware of the dangers of self-prescribing. Your aging parent may be tempted to increase the dose of a certain medication, or they may decide to take their medication more frequently to treat a symptom faster. Or they may add an over-the-counter drug to their list of medications to get quicker relief. Self-medicating increases your loved one’s risk of overmedication and drug interactions that can cause serious harm to their health. If a medication is not providing the expected relief, it’s always safer to call the doctor and ask for advice.
8. Monitor for medication compliance. Medications only work if taken consistently and as directed by the doctor. If your aging parent is simply forgetful or is having trouble tracking their medications, a reminder system may be helpful. But those with a cognitive impairment, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, need to have their medications carefully managed and monitored. When taken incorrectly, medications can be harmful or even fatal.
9. Minimize the number of doctors and pharmacists you use. Having a primary care provider, such as a family physician or geriatrician, can help make care coordination easier as they establish good communication with other specialists. It’s also best to get all your parent’s medications from one pharmacy to add another level of review, help ensure appropriate dosage, and reduce the risk of adverse drugs effects and interactions.
10. Help your loved one organize their medications. If you or your loved one need extra help staying organized, there are plenty of tools and devices to keep you on track. There are mail-order pharmacy services, such as PillPack, which organizes and manages medications for you. Many families find “smart”, or tech-enabled, pillboxes and dispensers to be helpful, along with reminder apps. Shop around for options to help your loved one stay safe when managing their medications.
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