For many older people, needing a prescription medicine is almost as inevitable as gray hair and reading glasses. Two-thirds of all seniors take at least one medication each day, and 25 percent take three or more. Many seniors owe their lives — or at least their lifestyles — to medications, but the remedies can also carry serious risks.
As a senior, you’re especially vulnerable to the effects of prescription drugs. Not only do people in your age group take more drugs than any other group, you’re also more sensitive to the effects of medication. Each year, in fact, more than 9 million Americans suffer side effects or have a negative reaction to medication. Fortunately, a few simple steps can help you take the danger out of your drugs.
How can I find out about possible dangers from my medication?
The first step to staying safe is understanding the risks. Read the warning labels on all over-the-counter medications, and ask your doctor about the side effects of all your prescriptions. You should know that two common medications, the sedative diazepam (Valium) and the painkiller propoxyphene (Darvon), are considered by many experts to be inappropriate for people over 65. If your doctor suggests such a medication, ask him or her for an alternative.
You should also ask your doctor if your medications can interact with each other. Drug interactions are a serious concern for seniors; according to the Council on Family Health, almost 40 percent of all drug reactions reported each year involve people over 60. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that one-third of emergency room visits for side effects from medicine among those 65 or older are due to three drugs: insulin, warfarin (a blood thinner), and digoxin (a heart medicine). Talk to your doctor about how to take your medicines safely and how to detect any reactions early.
Also, make sure your doctor knows about every prescription and nonprescription drug you are taking, including herbal remedies and nutritional supplements — and even your daily multivitamin.
How can I take my medications safely?
Follow your doctor’s directions exactly. This sounds pretty basic, but as reported by American Family Physician, 21 to 55 percent of all older adults fail to take their medications, or take them at the wrong times or in the wrong amounts. Make sure you understand how and when to take all your medications. Have your physician write down the directions, if necessary, to be sure you will remember them.
If you have trouble reading labels, ask for large-print type on your prescription labels. A magnifying glass and a bright light can also help. Don’t reach for your medicines in the dark — it’s too easy to mix them up.
Develop a system for keeping track of your medications. For instance, you can start your day by sorting your medications into separate