Medication Management Is a Challenge for Many Seniors

Senior man with glasses on table strokes chin and looks thoughtfully at many pills on table in front of him. Focus on man. Frontal view, green and white color palette.

You’ve probably read by now that older adults have been seriously affected by today’s opioid crisis. Many seniors abuse opioid drugs, such as codeine, oxycodone or hydrocodone—and often as not, they started with a prescription from their doctor. A study in the September 2018 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine noted that many of these prescriptions were unjustified in the first place!

Opioids aren’t the only medications that can cause problems for seniors. Earlier this year, Boston University School of Medicine experts noted that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen) and Celebrex, can have serious side effects including internal bleeding and even heart attacks. Benzodiazepines, often prescribed for anxiety and insomnia, also can be very dangerous for older adults, according to a recent study from the University of Michigan.

The medications seniors take help them manage many health conditions—everything from diabetes to heart disease to osteoporosis. But it can be a complicated balancing act. Take too much and we could experience a dangerous overdose. Take too little, and our medication might be ineffective. Take a medication at the wrong time of day, with alcohol, or even with grapefruit juice, and bad side effects could follow. Medications can be a health management challenge in its own right! Here are four important steps seniors should take:

Step 1: Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review all your medications. Today, there’s emphasis on “deprescribing” unneeded prescription drugs. Perhaps a doctor prescribed a drug for you in the past, and you’re still taking it even if you no longer need it. Maybe another doctor prescribed a second drug that can interact badly with the first one. The review should include prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as herbal preparations.

Step 2: Use a single pharmacy. This allows the pharmacist to keep track of all your prescriptions and let you know if a combination of drugs might cause a problem. The pharmacist can also remind you that it’s time to refill a prescription, and suggest that you ask your doctor about a different drug that might be less expensive; studies show that the price of medications is one reason seniors fail to take them. (By the way, October is American Pharmacists Month! Check out these resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Step 3: Be sure you’re taking medications correctly. Read the label on the container and other informational materials—should you take this medication on an empty stomach, or with meals? What should you do if you accidentally skip a dose? If you’re not sure, ask your doctor or pharmacist. If it’s a new prescription, the pharmacist will most likely go over this information with you.

Step 4: Keep track of your medications. For people of any age, it’s so easy to forget to take a dose, or to absentmindedly pop a pill, and then take another one. That can be dangerous! Use a chart, pillbox, calendar, automatic alarm or premeasured doses to remind you that you need to take a medication—or that you already did.

Never stop taking a drug or change the way you take it without first discussing it with your doctor.

Home care can help!

Confident mid adult Hispanic medical professional talks with senior patient about her medication. The patient is holding a medicine bottle. She senior patient is sitting in a wheelchair. The nurse is sitting beside the patient.

Did you know that many seniors who move to a nursing home do so because they have problems managing their medications? Vision problems, memory loss and arthritis might make it hard to read pill bottle labels, remember to take a dose, and even to open the container.

These seniors can stay home longer with the help of professional home care. Skilled nursing services can be provided in a senior’s own home, and that can include help administering and managing medications.

Nonmedical home care also can help, at a lower cost. As part of a suite of services that might include assistance with bathing, dressing, meal preparation and light housekeeping, the caregiver can also provide medication reminders, and drive the client to the pharmacy or pick up prescriptions. Caregivers also are often the first one to notice if a senior client is suffering from side effects such as dizziness, depression or sleep disturbances. Some side effects even mimic the symptoms of dementia!

Having a trained caregiver on the scene not only protects the health and well-being of seniors—it also provides invaluable peace of mind for family.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. If you have questions about the medicines you take, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2018.