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Staying Safe at Home: Avoiding Overmedication

Senior Health Posts on Staying Put at Home Blog

The average 75-year old takes more than 10 prescription drugs.1 The use of four or more medications is known as polypharmacy. When using multiple medications, seniors run the risk of overmedicating, which can lead to falls, kidney failure and heart attacks. From 2007 to 2009, there were an estimated 99,628 emergency hospitalizations annually for adverse drug events in individuals 65 years and older.2Not properly adhering to medication regimens is also a major cause of nursing home placement of frail older adults. Elder care attorney and gerontologist Susan B Geffen mentions in her Raising UP Your Parents seminar that polypharmacy can lead to dizziness and falls. This week, Staying Put at Home will look at what you can do to make sure you stick to your prescription schedule and avoid overmedication.

Make A List

How many different medications are you taking? Can you name them all off the top of your head? Even if you can, we still strongly urge you to catalog all of your medication. Overmedication and complications with polypharmacy often arise from uncertainty. Making a list will give you a document you can consult whenever you might get confused. Along with your medications, list any over-the-counter products, vitamins and herbal supplements you take. Just because you can buy something over the counter does not make it less potent than a prescription drug. Furthermore, over-the-counter products can have adverse reactions when mixed with prescription drugs. Keep this list up to date, as one omitted drug could cause unwanted side effects. Make sure that your list is in an easy-to-find place in case of emergency.

When you write your list, make sure you include the following information for each medication:

  • Name and strength of the medication
  • Dosage instructions, including frequency, time of day and food intake
  • Color of the pill
  • Why you are taking it
  • When you started taking it
  • Any food or drug interactions
  • Doctor who prescribed it

Consult Your Pharmacist or Physician

As you age, it is common to have numerous doctors and specialists monitoring your health. With so many doctors, your prescriptions can stack up. Health care professionals often do not consult one another before writing prescriptions, meaning that they may not be aware of all the drugs you are taking. This oversight could lead to overmedication if you are not careful. In order to prevent this, use your list to go over all your medications with your pharmacist or physician. This person should know which drugs will have harmful interactions. Also, use just one pharmacy for all your prescriptions. That way, they will have a record of all the medications you are taking and can alert you to any potential drug interactions.

Do Your Research

A little work now could pay off later. Check all the possible side effects or potential ailments that your medication could induce. Also, always ask your doctors about any potential issues when they are writing your prescriptions and make sure they clearly explain the information. Medication awareness lets you know exactly what you are putting in your body.

Use A Pillbox

A pillbox is a simple tool you can use to stay on top of your medication. Like with a list, keeping your medications organized in one place will help you remember whether you have taken the correct daily dosages. Skipping drugs can have major health consequences, leading to lengthy stays in the hospital. Pill timers can also be useful for reminding you when to take your medication, especially if you have short-term memory trouble. If you have a smartphone, consider getting an app that will remind you when to take your medication.

  1. Digging In On Issue of Overmedicated Seniors
  2. Overmedicating The Elderly – The New Epidemic
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