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As our loved ones get older, not only do they take more medications than ever before (the average senior pops more than five different pills daily, not including over-the-counter drugs or supplements), their bodies process drugs differently, which can leave them more vulnerable to problems. Add to that: Senior citizens are twice as likely to visit the ER due to adverse drug reactions than their younger counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, side effects from insulin, the blood thinner warfarin (aka Coumadin) and the heart drug digoxin caused about 58,000 ER visits a year in those 65 and older, according to a 2007 study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. That accounts for a third of all U.S. emergency room visits by senior citizens. Here are six ways to help keep your loved one safe:
1. Make a List. Keep a personal record of all the meds your loved one is taking, including the name of the medication, the dosage instructions, the reason it was prescribed and the name and number of the doctor who prescribed it. Don’t forget to include over-the-counter meds and herbal supplements, too.
2. Bring All Medications to the Doctor. Unsure what all the meds are for? Toss them in a bag and bring them to the doctor and ask for help figuring out why you are taking everything.
3. Ask Questions. Every time a new med is recommended or prescribed, ask the physician and pharmacist the following questions: Why has this been prescribed? How does it work? How can I tell if the drug is working? What are the possible side effects? Is this safe to take with other prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs? In addition, ask about the risk of mixing food and drink with your meds. For instance, grapefruit juice, licorice, chocolate, alcohol and other food and beverages are known to increase side-effect risks with certain medications.
4. Change Dosage. Open a dialog with the prescribing physicians about possibly lowering the number of different pills taken throughout the day. Studies show that the more pills a person takes, the less likely they are to adhere to the schedule and dosage.
5. Store Smart. Don’t keep your meds in the bathroom or the kitchen. The moisture and heat can impact potency.
6. Box Them. Get a pill box that has labeled compartments for each day of the week. There are even ones labeled “take with meals” or “take at bedtime” and ones that beep when it’s time for a dose.
To find out how VNSNY can help you care for your family member, please call 1-800-675-0391.