By: Erin Ulibarri, MPH, CHES, Health Educator
Are you a typical older adult here in the United States who takes 4-5 prescription and 2 over-the-counter (OTC) drugs at a time? Are you filling 12-17 prescriptions each year?
People ages 65 and older consume more prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines than any other age group, 25-40% of all prescriptions filled and 40-50% OTC medications bought at the store. This is because older adults tend to have more long-term, chronic illnesses--such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease--than do younger people.
When prescribed and taken appropriately, drugs have many benefits. However, with the use of multiple medications, the chance of negative interactions increases. These interactions may produce uncomfortable or even dangerous side effects. For example, a person who takes a blood-thinning medication should not combine that with aspirin, which will thin the blood even more. Antacids can interfere with absorption of certain drugs for Parkinson's disease, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Before your physician prescribes any new drug, he or she should be aware of all the other drugs you may be taking. This includes prescribed and OTC medications, supplements, vitamins, and herbal remedies.
Older adults are usually more sensitive to the effects of a drug and may require lower doses than younger people. Changes in weight, daily habits such as food intake or activity level, or emotional status may require that your medication dosage be altered. Your doctor needs to be informed about these types of changes. In addition, if you experience dizziness, constipation, upset stomach, sleep changes, diarrhea, incontinence, blurred vision, mood changes, a rash, or other symptoms after taking a drug call your doctor immediately.
* Be sure to tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medicines you take. * When more than one doctor prescribes medications, have your primary care physician coordinate all your drugs. * Get all your prescriptions filled at one pharmacy. * Learn about your drugs. Find out as much as you can by asking questions of your physician and pharmacist and reading the package inserts. * Before you leave your doctor's office with a new prescription, make sure you fully understand how to take the drug correctly and follow the directions on the label. * Ask your pharmacist for an oversized, easy-to-open bottle and ask for large-type labels. If those are not available, use a magnifying glass and read the label under bright light. * Take medication only prescribed to you. Do not take someone else’s prescription. Serious interactions can occur. * Throw away expired medication. Medication loses potency over time. * Don't forget to take your medicines. Use a memory aid to help you--a calendar, pill box, or your own system.
To help you organize your medication regimen, the Office on Aging has received a limited supply of pill boxes that you get receive by calling their Information and Assistance Line at (800) 510-2020 or (714) 567-7500. The certified aging specialists will also be able to give you information on all programs for older adults in Orange County, including meals, transportation, in-home care, health and prescription insurance, caregiver needs, disabled services, legal assistance, ethnic services, adult day care, case management, exercise, social activities and much more!