Prescription medications can give seniors a better quality of life by managing chronic diseases such as heart disease, COPD, diabetes and many others. However, for optimal benefit, these medications need to be taken as prescribed and this seems to be a growing concern among the aging population.
In an attempt to raise awareness on the rise of medication errors occurring at home, a 2012 study by USA Today showed a massive increase in the numbers of deaths related to medication mistakes at home of 700 percent between 1983 and 2004.
Several factors contribute to this statistic, especially among the elderly population. These include the:
- Number of chronic diseases affecting the elderly
- Receiving of treatment from a variety of healthcare providers
- Number of medications prescribed
- Use of more than one pharmacy.
The upside to this growing concern is the number of available strategies that can be incorporated into your medication regime to prevent errors from occurring.
The First Steps in Prevention
Being familiar with your prescribed medications is the first step in preventing a variety of medication errors.
A master list of all of your medications; including over-the-counter, supplements and herbal remedies, should always be maintained. This list should be updated with your healthcare provider at least once a year, when any changes are made to your medication regime and upon transition of care such as a hospital admission.
The list should include:
- The medication name
- Reason for taking the medication
- The prescribing healthcare provider
- The dose to be taken
- How often you take the medication
- Special instructions such as take by mouth or with food
- Any side effects you have experienced while taking the medication
Secondly, try to fill all of your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. Pharmacies typically have a computerized system in place to alert you to potential drug or food interactions. Also, building a relationship with your pharmacist has its benefits. He/she can answer any questions you have about your medications and make you aware of potential side effects.
Common Medication Errors and Recommendations for Prevention
Problem: Overdoses and Missed Doses
- Never take more medication than prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- Signs of medication overuse include: sedation, mood swings and running out of medication early
- Humans are creatures of habit so it’s necessary to establish a daily routine to avoid these medication errors.
Tips for establishing your routine and staying on schedule include:
- Consider using a medication dispensing product or a medication alert system.
These include: medication reminder watches, weekly alarmed pill boxes, vibrating pocket pill dispenser for traveling, locked and tamperproof dispensers for pain medications, vibrating pagers and reminder telephone calls, emails and text messages.
- To keep an adequate supply of your medications, mark refill dates on your calendar. Also, to avoid multiple trips to the pharmacy, ask your pharmacist if your medications can be renewed at the same time. This eliminates missed doses and increases medication compliance.
Problem: Confusing Medications with One Another
When the medications themselves look similar or the names resemble each other, senior citizens are at a greater risk of confusing medications. Just a few of the medications that are frequently confused include:
- Novolin and Novolog
- Clonidine and Klonopin
- Celexa and Celebrex
- Tramadol and Trazodone
- When filling your pill box, leave at least one pill in the original pill bottle so you can identify each of your pills and avoid confusion.
- Use a medication chart, which should include the name, shape and color of each pill. If possible, attach a picture of each medication to your chart for easy reference. You may want to note the start date of each medication, your dosage, how frequently you take it, the reason it was prescribed and any special instructions.
Also, to avoid further confusion, you should discard any expired or old medications as older prescriptions increase your risk of inadvertently taking the wrong prescription. Checking the expiration date of your medication every six months will decrease your chance of illness as expired medications can become toxic, making you very ill.
Problem: Medication and Food Interactions
40 percent of senior citizens take five or more medications, which are prescribed by multiple healthcare providers. This is where your pharmacist can greatly benefit you as healthcare providers don’t always collaborate with one another.
- Speak to your pharmacist about your medications.
- The AARP website has an online drug interaction tracker for your convenience; make sure you include all over-the-counters, supplements and herbal remedies.
Problem: Trouble Swallowing Large Pills
Recommendations: Some medications are intended to be long acting. If you have trouble swallowing it may be tempting to crush, chew, break or mix a larger or difficult to swallow medication with liquid. This can cause the medication to be released too quickly, not work properly or make you feel ill. When this situation arises, check with your pharmacist to see if a medication is available in liquid form.