What Do We Need to Know about Medication Safety?

Medication safety for seniors is an important issue. As we get older, the number of medications we take often increases dramatically, while the aging process works against us to make keeping track of those medications more difficult. Prescription safety should be a top priority for older adults and their caregivers.

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11 tips for medication safety

1. Keep a list of all medications and allergies

This is one of those simple but vital tips. To avoid possible side effects and interactions, know what medications you take and at what dose, who prescribes them, and what side effects or allergies you've experienced. Keep it jotted down in your phone so you always have it with you.

It's also critical that you share this information with doctors when anything changes or when you visit a new specialist.

2. Read labels and prescription leaflets thoroughly

Not only should you know what you’re taking, but you should also know why you’re taking it and what possible side effects you should look out for. The pharmacy should be providing you with printed information when you fill prescriptions, so read that literature.

3. Follow directions exactly

Medications should always be taken as prescribed. Don’t take more (or less) than instructed and don’t change the times you take them without consulting with your doctor or pharmacist first. Drugs can have unforeseen interactions and side effects, including potentially fatal poisoning, when dosages are changed.

4. Participate in regular medication therapy management sessions with your pharmacist

Medication therapy management (MTM) is a consultation service provided by pharmacists. It typically involves sitting down with the pharmacist and going over all the medications you’re currently taking so that you can gain a clear understanding of what you take and why.

It's also a good chance to look for drugs that you may no longer need to take or to bring up medications you feel aren’t working properly. Most major pharmacies offer medication therapy management—and it should be a regular part of medication management for seniors.

5. Ask questions

If you are unsure about anything, from what a drug does to whether you still need to be taking it, don’t hesitate to ask. Pill safety is a team effort between you, your doctors, and your pharmacist, so it’s important that you play your part by clarifying issues and speaking up.

6. Don't assume OTC or herbal medications are harmless

Be skeptical of all drug interactions. Before you start taking anything new, whether it's a prescription, over the counter product, or herbal remedy, ask your pharmacist if there are any possible interactions. 

For example, if you're feeling bad and you reach for common products like Tylenol and NyQuil, you can accidentally take too much acetaminophen at once. This type of poisoning can be fatal if not treated within about 8 hours.2 

7. Send in refill requests early

Pharmacies can usually refill prescriptions a certain number of times without calling your doctor. But your doctor needs to re-approve the prescription every so often, and this is where you might run into trouble with slow-to-respond offices. Prepare for delays by calling in refills when you still have about a week's worth on hand.

8. Choose your pharmacy (and doctor) wisely

Customer service makes a big difference when it comes to medication management. The ideal pharmacy is not only knowledgeable but also communicative and willing to coordinate with your doctor or other pharmacies when necessary. If your pharmacy or doctor doesn't seem to care that you'll miss a dose, switch providers. It's not worth the stress.

9. Know your options

If you do end up needing to advocate for yourself or a loved one, it's important to know your options.

For example, pharmacies can loan up to three doses of many prescriptions if your doctor is late in authorizing the refill request. The pharmacist will review your medical history and consider whether missing a dose of the medication will harm your health before dispensing the loaner pills.1

And if the pharmacy says they're out of stock, you can have the prescription temporarily transferred to another pharmacy.

Don't hesitate to ask questions or to call another pharmacy for a second opinion if you're not sure you're getting fair treatment.  

10. Use a pill tracker

Missing a dose can be a big deal, whether it results in nasty withdrawal side effects or leaves you vulnerable to the condition you're treating—like high blood pressure or epilepsy. Doubling a dose can also have serious (and sometimes fatal) consequences.

Avoid all of those scenarios with a pill tracker and never wonder, "Did I take my meds yet?" ever again. 

11. Be prepared for overdoses

If you or your loved one takes a medication that is potentially fatal, learn about whether there are any antidotes available. Keep them in an easy-to-reach location, learn how to administer them, and learn the signs of an overdose. Your pharmacist can help with all of this. You should also keep potentially fatal medications in a box with a time lock to prevent early access.

Sources

  1. Robert E. Hertzka, MD, American Medical Association, "Emergency Prescription Drug Refills," 2015. Accessed October 13, 2022.
  2. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus, "Acetaminophen Overdose." Accessed October 13, 2022.

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Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over seven years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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