Medication Safety and Your Health

Remember the time when you did not need to take any medications? Life certainly seemed simpler, at least for me! I used to jump out of bed and didn't need to concern myself with taking this medication with food, that medication on an empty stomach, etc.

When I had to start taking medications after my thyroid surgery, I had a startling realization:  I would be taking at least one medication daily for the rest of my life.

For many people, it's not about taking one or two medications but rather managing a complicated medication regimen every day. Taking medications as prescribed is extremely important. It is important to know, however that as we age, what was once a correctly prescribed dose or drug may no longer be appropriate. Be sure to talk with your pharmacist or doctor about any medication-related questions you have.

Safe today, healthy tomorrow

The more you know about the medications you take, the greater the likelihood you can and will use them safely.

Medicines and Your Health is an easy reference guide that may help you recognize if complications have occurred. Print a copy and share it with your health care provider and pharmacist.

Did you know that about two-thirds of emergency hospitalizations among the elderly can be attributed to four commonly-prescribed medicines—Warfarin (Coumadin), Insulin, antiplatelet drugs, and oral diabetic medications?

Additionally, many folks face "polypharmacy" issues, which can be defined (by multiple sources) as the excessive or unnecessary use of medication, the use of more than five medications, taking a medication for no therapeutic reason, taking more than one medication for the same condition, or taking medications to treat side effects of other medications.

Taking prescription medications can improve the symptoms of a disorder and improve quality of life; however, prescription medications have the potential to cause dangerous side effects. Physicians who prescribe medications to the elderly offer this guideline: "Start low and go slow." This means they may be asked to take new medications at a slower rate and/or to start at lower than usual adult doses.

As our bodies change with age, so does the need for a different dosage, interval and duration of treatment. The effects of a harmful drug reaction can appear as an isolated symptom (drowsiness) or as a group of symptoms (depression and confusion). In the elderly, toxic reactions can occur even at low drug dosages; therefore, older adults should approach the use of prescription medication with caution and report any unusual or new symptoms to their health care provider.

Consult your health care provider and your pharmacist

It is important to take medications only as prescribed, check to make sure that medicines have not expired, and not change prescription medication dosage or stop taking your medication without talking with your health care provider. When questions arise, don't hesitate to ask your primary care provider or your pharmacist. Pharmacists are experts in medications and can provide valuable teaching and information about your medication regimen.

Taking care of your overall health means taking care that you take medications wisely. You deserve to be as healthy as you can be. You are worth it!

Contributor Mary Patricia O'Leary RN, BSN is a planner at Aging and Disability Services who has partnered with community health care providers to develop a host of chronic condition self-management plans. She received input from UW School of Pharmacy professor Shanna K. O'Connor on this article.