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October 2013

by Amanda Powell

Medicinal science is the wave of the future. Today there seems to be a medication for anything. We often go to the doctor with a problem anticipating a prescription will be ordered. We also can get upset with our doctor if they don’t order a prescription, causing us to think that it was a wasted visit. As we age, it is likely that our use of medication will increase. This is because aging people tend to have a larger number of ailments and diseases, causing them to be on multiple medications at the same time. The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that on an average, seniors are taking between 8-13 prescription drugs. While practicing, I have actually seen seniors in the range of 20-40 prescription drugs for one person. This is very scary when we think about the frailty of some of our seniors and the possible side effects from all these medications.Not to mention the cost of prescriptions, especially for seniors on a limited income.    

So what can be done?

Make sure you have a trusted primary physician and pharmacist. Don’t use multiple pharmacies and doctors, and report any new medicines prescribed by specialists to your primary physician so they are aware of everything you are taking. By using one pharmacy, the pharmacist can look at all of your prescribed drugs and see if there are any that could be counter-acting one another or possibly should not be taken together at all. This is also a great resource when trying to find the best Medicare D plan because the pharmacy can run a list of your current medications, along with the dosage and frequency, for you to use when checking your plan coverage.  

You should always review your current medication list with your primary physician at all your appointments. If you are not seeing your doctor regularly, schedule an appointment specifically to do this. As I mentioned above, your primary physician may not be the only one prescribing medications so it is imperative to look over the list with them and be sure they agree that you still need all of the current medications, including any over the counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements. There are a lot of times that a supplement is recommended or prescribed due to a certain issue and then the senior just never stops taking it, even after the issue is resolved. This would be a good topic with your physician because there may be a multivitamin that could be taken in place of multiple vitamin tablets.  

Always ask why a medication is being prescribed and understand what each medication is for. If this is too overwhelming or hard to keep straight, make sure a trusted family member, friend, or Health Care Power of Attorney knows and understands what your medicines are and why you are taking them. The more knowledgeable you are about your medications, the more likely you are to know when you may be suffering a side effect from them. It also gives you a better idea if the medication is working for the problem it was prescribed for. At times a senior may be prescribed something as a trial to see if it helps with a particular problem and then a follow-up for this particular reason never occurs and people can stay on a medicine for years that isn’t even working for what it was intended. If you are being prescribed a new medication, ask your physician if they have any samples first. I have seen a lot of seniors spend the money on filling a script and then cannot take it because they suffered a side effect. This also can give you an opportunity to see if the medication works for the problem before investing in it.    

Make sure you are taking all prescriptions correctly and have an organized way of distributing them daily. Medicine boxes are a great way to keep them all straight and there are a variety of styles that can meet any frequency need. A medicine box also helps you remember if you already took your medicines for the day. You can see that they are missing for that particular day or time and know you took them. When taking from the bottles, it is easy to forget if you took them and could mistakenly take them again. Never take someone else’s medications and always look at the bottles and be sure it has your name on them. In a household with an elderly husband and wife – both taking multiple medications – they could easily get mixed up. If you are not able to see or handle your meds easily, have a trusted person fill your medicine box for you or see if your pharmacy will fill it. There are many pharmacies that will do this and deliver as well, so check around.  

Finally, the next time you are headed to the doctor to report a new problem, ask yourself some questions on the way. Are you going to be disappointed if a medication is not prescribed? Could you ask the doctor if there are any alternatives to prescribing another prescription? If you are adding another prescription, could you review my current list today and see if I am still needing all of them? Advocate for yourself. Our physicians care about our health and about our feelings but they can’t read our minds, so talk with them about your concerns with your medications and you may be surprised how helpful the conversation is in understanding your medications and their necessity. Also, remember that Western Illinois Home Health Care can provide a nurse to review your medications, teach you about your medications and advocate for you in the process of trying to reduce or add a medication. Our Senior Care Manager can also assist you in finding resources to help you take your medications accurately and in some cases assist with finding financial resources to assist with the cost of your prescriptions. Contact us at 1-800-228-5993 for more information on our line of home care services.

Amanda Powell, BSW, is the Senior Care Manager for Western Illinois Home Health Care

Medications and the Elderly

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