Medication Management for Older Adults: Tips, Guidelines and Safety
Taking medications safely and effectively is important at any age, but it becomes especially critical as we get older. As our bodies change with age, the way we metabolize and respond to medications can change too. Additionally, older adults often take more prescription and over-the-counter medications than younger people. Therefore, medication management for older adults becomes more important than ever.
With multiple medications comes an increased risk of side effects, interactions and confusion. Fortunately, there are many things one can do for managing medications for the elderly.
The first step in managing medications is getting organized. Having a system to keep track of which medications need to be taken when makes adherence much simpler. Consider using the following organization tips:
• Use a pill organizer or medi-set: These containers allow you to sort your pills for each day of the week or time of day (morning, afternoon, evening, bedtime). Medi-sets make it easy to see at a glance whether you’ve taken your medications for that time period.
• Create a master medication list: Include all prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements. For each one, note the name, dosage, purpose, prescribing doctor, pharmacy/phone number, and any special instructions. Keep this list updated and take it with you to all medical appointments.
• Use reminder tools: Apps, calendars, timers or alarms can all help cue you to take medications on time.
• Designate one spot in your home to keep all medications together and properly stored.
• Check refill date: Make sure you have enough medication on hand and refill before running out. Sign up for pharmacy auto-refill programs or mail order deliveries.
Senior medication management tips like these make taking multiple medications less confusing.
Review Your Medications
Have your doctor or pharmacist review all your prescription and over-the-counter medications at least once or twice a year. As you age, your medication needs change, and some drugs are no longer necessary or safe. A review can identify:
• Duplicate medications for the same purpose: Taking two medications in the same drug class is rarely needed.
• Interactions: One drug may alter the effects of another. Interactions can cause side effects or make one or both drugs less effective.
• Medications to avoid in older adults: As bodies change, drugs like sleep aids, antihistamines, muscle relaxants and drugs with anticholinergic effects can become problematic for seniors.
• Opportunities to simplify regimens: Taking fewer medications daily makes adherence easier.
To get the most out of a medication review:
• Share all health conditions you have and document any new symptoms. These details help determine appropriate medications for you.
• Bring your medication list and pill bottles. Accurate information is key.
• Ask questions. Understanding why medications are prescribed and how to take them properly supports proper use.
• Discuss options to simplify medication regimens. Taking fewer pills or doses each day may be possible.
Staying informed about your medications through regular reviews with your doctor improves medication safety as you age.
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Senior Medication Management Tips
The following are the important senior medication management tips to keep in mind:
Use Medications Safely
Medication errors, often involving seniors, frequently happen during transitions of care between settings like hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and home. To maintain safety:
• Don’t stop or change prescribed medications on your own. Discuss required changes with your doctor. Sudden medication changes can be harmful.
• Make sure new prescriptions don’t interact with other medications you take. Use one pharmacy so your full medication list is accessible.
• Confirm dosing changes. If a medication’s dose changes, ask if you should finish the old dose or start the new dose right away.
• Request medication summaries/lists when discharged from hospitals or facilities. Compare these lists to what you were previously taking to spot discrepancies.
• Ask about the purpose of new medications. Know why a medication is prescribed before taking it.
• Inform all healthcare providers of all medical conditions and medications. Missing key details raises the risk of issues.
• Use medication aids as needed. For example, large print labels help with vision issues, and pill splitters aid with splitting pills.
Medication management for older adults is key to manage their health condition. Following safe medication use tips helps prevent confusion and errors.
Monitor Side Effects
Along with benefits, medications can sometimes cause side effects. Older adults are at increased risk for side effects due to medication sensitivities that can develop with age. Watch for common medication side effects like:
• Drowsiness, confusion, dizziness or headaches – These signs can indicate issues like too much blood pressure medication, or interactions.
• Constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting – Medications like opioids, antibiotics, blood pressure drugs, iron and calcium supplements may cause these issues. Staying hydrated and eating fiber can help manage gastrointestinal side effects.
• Loss of appetite – Diuretics, antibiotics, and Gabapentin can suppress appetite. Older adults should watch for weight loss.
• Fatigue/weakness – Cardiac and blood pressure medications like beta-blockers may cause tiredness. Weakness could signal dehydration.
• Mood changes – Antidepressants, steroids and pain medications can affect mood. New or worsening depression or anxiety should be evaluated.
• Blurred vision, dry mouth or urine retention – These suggest anticholinergic side effects that require medication changes.
Discuss any concerning or persistent medication side effects with your doctor promptly. Dose adjustments or alternate medications can often help relieve issues.
Don’t just stop taking a prescribed medication on your own.
Follow Doctor’s Orders
To gain the most benefit from medications, follow doctor’s instructions carefully, including:
• Take medications at the prescribed time of day.
• Don’t crush or split pills unless advised to do so.
• Finish the full course as directed. Stopping antibiotics or other medications early may lead to treatment failure, recurrence or antibiotic resistance.
• Don’t mix medications with alcohol or grapefruit juice. These combinations may alter drug effects and can be dangerous.
• Store medications properly at ideal temperatures.
• Monitor effects of new medications. Report how the medication is working and any issues to your doctor.
• Adhere to prescribed diets. Certain diets boost drug effectiveness and reduce side effects. For example, take iron pills on an empty stomach but calcium with food.
Following medication protocols is vital for medication management for older adults. Alert your doctor if high costs ever force you to ration medications. Search for lower costs medications having the same chemical component.
Living Well with Medications
While managing multiple medications presents challenges, a few key strategies make managing medications for the elderly simple:
• Use organizers and reminders
• Have medications reviewed regularly.
• Follow safety precautions. These tips help avoid medication issues, confusion and errors during care transitions.
• Monitor for side effects.
• Adhere to your doctor’s instructions. This ensures you get the optimal effects from your medications.
Living well with medications takes commitment. But with the right habits, knowledge and support, medication management for older adults becomes easy.
As we age, staying on top of medications can be challenging. At Emoha Health Care, we understand the medication management difficulties older adults face.
Our experienced elderly care managers can provide personalized support with medication organization, reminders, doctor coordination, side effect monitoring and more.
Emoha’s elderly care services help seniors properly adhere to complex medication regimens for better health. Contact us today to learn more about our elder care solutions.