Advice Independent Living

Medication Management Tips for Seniors

A senior woman taking pills from a pillbox with the help of an assisted living staff

People 65 years old and older take prescribed medications more frequently than any other age group in the United States. While older adults are 13% of the U.S. population, they account for 34% of all prescription medicine use and 30% of all over-the-counter (OTC) medicine use. Most take several medicines to treat chronic illnesses. This often means multiple doctors, multiple medications and even multiple pharmacies, increasing the risk of drug interactions, mix-ups, and the potential for harmful side effects.

Additionally, as our bodies age, the way medications work in our body also changes. For example, changes in the digestive system can affect how fast medicines enter the bloodstream. The liver and kidneys also may work more slowly, affecting the way a drug breaks down and is removed from the body. This often means medicines stay in the body longer and cause more severe side effects if doses aren’t properly adjusted and monitored.

Proper medication management for seniors is crucial, because if medications aren’t properly administered, they can cause more damage than good. Here are some useful medication management tips to reduce medication-related problems.

Know the medicines you take
Knowledge is key. Keep an updated list of each medication you take, including both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications. This includes any supplements, such as vitamins and herbals or other remedies. Include why the medication is being taken, who prescribed it, the dose, frequency, any special dosing instructions and noticeable side effects. Don’t forget to update as changes are made, and bring the list with you whenever you see your doctor.

Follow directions
Read both the inserts in prescription medications as well as the Drug Facts on the container of over-the-counter medications. Be certain you know how, when, and for how long you should take the medication. Try to have all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy so the pharmacist is aware of all the different medications you’re taking.


Check for interactions
The Food and Drug Administration has created a list of tips to help you avoid common drug interactions. You can also find multiple online tools to type in your medications and check for potential problems. You should always consult a pharmacist if you have questions.

Ask questions
Whenever you’re prescribed a new medication or your dosage is changed, ask why. If you have any concerns about the combination of medications you’re taking, or how a new medication will affect you, ask your doctor or pharmacist to check any new medications in a drug interaction database. Learn about the dosage, proper storage, side effects and anything else that will help you take medications correctly.

Set up a reminder system
For those taking multiple medications, it can be difficult to remember the important details of each one. There are several apps available online or on your mobile phone that can remind you to take your medications on the right day and at the right time. It might help to use another daily task as a reminder—take your medicine before your morning walk, after lunch or while watching TV in the evening. Turning tasks into habits is a useful way to remember to include them in your daily schedule.

Watch for side effects
This is especially important when you start to take a new medication or change your medication routine. Watch out for any signs of dizziness, loss of sleep, feelings of weakness, upset stomach or pain. Talk to your doctor as soon as you feel ill, and make sure you inform them of the medication you’re taking and what you think may be the issue.

Ask before taking an OTC
Some over-the-counter medications can cause serious side effects in older adults. OTC drugs and supplements may interact with your prescription medications. A few — ibuprofen and naproxen, for example — have different names but belong to the same drug category. Taking both drugs at the same time is the same as taking a double dose and could cause problems.

Review your medications
Once or twice a year, ask your primary health care provider to review your list of medications, supplements and vitamins. Ask whether you still need to take each one at its current dose. Your doctor may want to stop some of your medications.

Medication management for seniors can be a challenging task. It’s a complex process, but with the appropriate attention, it shouldn’t be overwhelming.

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