Unfortunately, millions of older Americans are taking way too many medications today, which raises their risk of dangerous side effects and drug interactions.
According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, people aged 65 to 69 take an average of 15 prescriptions a year, and those aged 80 to 84 take 18 prescriptions a year. And that’s in addition to the myriad of over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals they may take, any of which – alone or in combination – could cause more problems than they cure.
Even when older patients are taking only necessary and effective drugs, the dosages need a second look. As patients age, they tend to metabolize drugs more slowly, meaning the dose that was perfect five years ago may now be too high, perhaps causing dizziness and falls. Doses need to be continually adjusted with age, and most of the time that doesn’t happen.
Get a Drug Review
If you have concerns or questions about the medications your senior loved one is taking, gather up all their pill bottles, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs as well as vitamins and supplements, put them in a bag, and take them to their primary physician or pharmacist for a comprehensive drug review.
Medicare provides free drug reviews with a doctor during annual “wellness visits,” and many Medicare Part D prescription-drug beneficiaries can get free reviews from pharmacists, too.
At the drug review, go through each medication and find out if there are any duplicate meds or dangerous combinations your parent is taking, and if there are any drugs they could stop taking or reduce the dosage. Then, make a medication master list and keep it updated so it can be easily be shared whenever your parent sees a doctor.
To help with this, AARP offers a free “my personal medication record” form that you can download and print at AARP-medical-record-form.pdffiller.com. Or, if your senior loved one uses a smartphone, they can use a pill tracking app like Medisafe – Pill & Med Reminder (MyMedisafe.com).
If possible, your senior loved one should also use a single pharmacy to fill all their prescriptions. The software that pharmacies use to manage patient prescriptions is designed to cross reference all medications a patient is taking to ensure that there are no drug interactions that could cause harm.
Also, the next time your parent’s doctor prescribes a new medication, they should ask about nondrug treatment options that might be safer. If the drug is indeed necessary, then they need to find out how long they’re supposed to take it and the side-effects it can cause.
Another good resource that can help keep your senior loved one safe is the American Geriatrics Society, which has identified 10 different types of medications that people 65 and older should almost always avoid because of the risk of serious side effects. They include the anti-anxiety drugs diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax), and sleep drugs such as zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta). To see the complete list, visit HealthInAging.org and search “10 medications older adults should avoid.”
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.
Jim MillerContributing Writer
Jim Miller is the creator of Savvy Senior, a syndicated information column for older Americans and their families that is published in more than 300 U.S. newspapers and magazines. Jim is also a contributor to NBC’s “Today” show and KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, and is the author of The Savvy Senior, The Ultimate Guide to Health, Family and Finances for Senior Citizens.
Jim is frequently quoted in articles about issues affecting senior citizens and has been featured in numerous national publications, including Time magazine, USA Today and The New York Times. In addition, he has made multiple appearances on CNBC, CNN, Retirement Living Television and national public television. Read more from Jim Miller.