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Seniors: Be smart about medicines

It's important to manage your medications properly—especially as you get older.

These days it seems that help for what ails you is never farther than your local pharmacy. Whether it's aches and pains, high cholesterol or another condition, odds are good that a medicine can help.

But there's more to taking a drug than opening a bottle and swallowing a pill—especially if you are older and take multiple medications.

It's true that medicines confer many benefits. But as people age, their bodies may process medicines less efficiently. This can make the medicine less effective. And when people take lots of different medicines, they're at higher risk for dangerous drug interactions.

To avoid mistakes with medicines, heed this advice from the National Institutes of Health, the American Geriatrics Society, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other groups:

Partner with your doctor

Share information. Health professionals can make a better decision about what to prescribe if you tell them about past problems you have had with medicines, such as rashes, indigestion or dizziness.

Be honest about your habits. A medicine's effectiveness can be affected by how much coffee, tea or alcohol you drink and whether you smoke.

Ask questions. Don't leave your doctor's office without asking why you need a prescribed medicine and how you should take it. Write the answers down or ask the doctor to provide you with written directions.

Talk to your doctor if you have trouble swallowing tablets. The same medicine may come in liquid form. Never break, crush or chew tablets unless the doctor says it's OK.

Do your homework

Make two lists. On each list, include all prescription and nonprescription medicines, herbal supplements, vitamins and laxatives you take—even those from specialists such as dentists and eye doctors. Keep one list at home and carry the other one in your wallet or purse for a quick reference if you need it.

Take medicine on schedule. It may be easiest to remember your medicine schedule if it coincides with a routine. For example, if you need medicine at 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., take the first dose when you brush your teeth each morning and the evening dose when you're ready for bed.

You could also use:

  • A pillbox to sort pills.
  • A handheld computer.
  • A lamp with a timer programmed to go on when it's time for your medicine.
  • A chart listing the name of the medicine, what it's for, who prescribed it, how and when to take it, how much to take, its color and shape, and possible side effects. To see a similar chart, go to nia.nih.gov/health/tracking-your-medications-worksheet.

Follow doctor's orders

Take medicine as prescribed. Even if you feel better, don't stop taking your medicine. The problem may return if you stop too soon. If the medicine doesn't seem to help, call your doctor before you quit taking it.

Know what to do if you miss a dose. It may not be safe to decide for yourself. Check the information sheet that comes with your medicine, or contact a doctor or pharmacist for advice.

Be aware of side effects. If you have symptoms that you suspect are due to a medicine, record how the symptoms make you feel and when they occur, then share this information with your doctor. If symptoms are severe, call right away. Your medicine may need to be changed or adjusted.

Let your pharmacist help

Buy all medicines at one pharmacy, if possible. This allows the pharmacist to check your complete record and advise you of potential drug interactions.

Request easy-to-open medicine containers if you have trouble with childproof caps. Keep all medicines out of reach when young children are in your home.

Be careful with nonprescription medicines. Some over-the-counter drugs have the same active ingredients. Taking these nonprescription medicines together might cause a bad reaction. Read the labels and ask the pharmacist to make sure the drug is safe for you.

Get help with medicine costs

If you need help to cover the cost of your prescriptions, don't skip doses or take half doses of medicine to save money. Your doctor or pharmacist may know about organizations that provide financial assistance. Also, ask about switching to generic medicines that cost less.

You might also be able to save money by enrolling in the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit program. Learn more at medicare.gov.

reviewed 10/21/2019

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