Averting Overmedication and Harmful Medication Reactions

From The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging; 4/4/08

Elderly adults are more likely than younger people to have long-term health problems such as arthritis and heart disease and to take prescription drugs on a frequent basis.

Because more mature adults often have more than one health problem, it isn’t unusual for them to take several different prescription medicines, in addition to over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, nutritional vitamins and supplements.

As a consequence, older adults run a higher risk of overmedication and unwanted drug responses. Older adults may end up taking too many drugs or drugs that interact in detrimental ways. In contrast to younger people, older adults are likely to be more sensitive to the effects of a good number of prescription drugs.

Every single year, more than a third of older US citizens have at least 1 unwanted drug reaction. Often, these reactions are life-threatening.

To reduce the possibilities of overmedication and drug reactions, the American Geriatrics Society’s Foundation for Health in Aging recommends the following.

(Note: If you care for an elderly person who requires assistance with medications, making sure that these guidelines are taken can help prevent overmedication and associated problems. )

Ask before taking an OTC Not all over-the counter (OTC) prescription drugs are suitable for elderly patients. Even though no prescription is needed for OTCs, some can cause side effects in older persons. In addition, a number of OTC medications—like ibuprofen and naproxen—might have different names but belong to the identical drug class or category. Using both of these is equivalent to consuming a dual dosage. OTC drugs may additionally interact with your prescribed medications. For these reasons, you should always check with your health care service provider before taking OTC drugs.

Make a List
Along with your primary health care provider, make a list of all the drugs you take, their doses, and how frequently you take them. Be sure to tell your provider if you take any OTC medicines, vitamins, supplements or herbal or other remedies and add these to the list. Your provider should retain this list in your records so other people who care for you have access to this data. You should retain a duplicate too.

Share It
Each and every time you see a health care provider, show him your medicine list so he or she knows precisely what you’re using.

Ask Questions
Anytime a healthcare provider prescribes a new drug or a switch in the dosage of a drug, ask the reason why. (If, for instance, your provider prescribes a new medication to ease the side effects of a drug you’re already using, ask if it makes sense to carry on taking that drug. ) Ask your provider to run any new medication through a drug interactions computer database, especially if you’re already taking five or more drugs.

Also ask:
• when and how you should take any new drug
• what you should do if you forget a dose
• whether the medication might have interaction with some other drugs, nutritional vitamin supplements or supplements you’re taking.
• what warning signs of a drug interaction you should watch for

Don't forget to add any new drug or dose to your listing and let your principal healthcare provider know each time a practitioner has approved a new drug for you.

Examine Labels
Check the label to make sure the pharmacist has provided you the correct quantity of the right drug at the appropriate dose. Your pharmacist can put large-print labeling on your prescription drugs if you have eyesight problems.

Follow Directions
Try to use a single pharmacy for all prescription medications That way, your pharmacist will have a thorough list of the medications you’re taking.

Most pharmacies now have computer systems that will alert the pharmacist of possible drug interactions.

Review and Modify
Once or twice a year, ask your primary healthcare provider to evaluate your list of medicines, supplements, and vitamins with you, and verify whether you still need each at its current dosage.



“Under the care of Leo J. Borrell, M.D. since December 2001, I have seen a remarkable improvement in my mother’s condition. She is responding dramatically to the new regiment Dr. Borrell has prescribed”

- Beth Rose


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