8 Tips to Avoid Harmful Drug Reactions and Overmedication in Seniors

overmedication in seniors

Too much medication can be harmful

On average, people over age 65 take over 14 prescription medications a year. That puts them at higher risk of overmedication and negative drug side effects.

This is a serious problem. According to the CDC, people over age 65 are twice as likely to go to the emergency room because of a harmful drug reaction and 7 times more likely to be hospitalized.

The good news is that many adverse drug reactions can be prevented. To reduce the chances of overmedication and harmful side effects, we found a helpful tip sheet from the American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation.

Their printable tip sheet covers 8 ways to avoid overmedication in seniors and tips to prevent adverse drug reactions. We’ve summarized the key points here.



8 tips to avoid negative side effects and overmedication in seniors

1. Ask before taking an OTC
Always check with the doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter (OTC) drug, vitamin, or supplement because they could interact with prescription medications.

OTC medications could also cause serious side effects in older adults or lead to accidental overdoses.


2. Make a list and keep it updated
Always keep an updated list of all the medications your older adult takes, the doses, and when they’re taken. Be sure to include any OTC drugs, vitamins, supplements, and herbal or other remedies.

Keep a copy yourself and share the list and updates with all their doctors and caregivers. Take the list to all medical appointments and keep it on hand in case of emergencies.


3. Review your medications
Once or twice a year, ask your older adult’s primary doctor to review the entire list of medications, supplements, and vitamins.

Some may no longer be needed or the dose could be lowered, so ask if each one is still needed at the current dose.


4. Ask questions

  • Whenever a new medication is prescribed or the dosage is changed, ask why.
  • Check new medications for potential drug interactions with existing medications, especially if your older adult is taking 5+ medications.
  • What is the purpose of the medication and how do we know if it’s working?
  • What side effects should we watch for?
  • When and how should the medication be taken?
  • What to do if a dose is missed?
  • Will it affect other medical conditions your older adult has?
  • Is a generic or lower-cost brand version of the medication available?


5. Organize your medications
Staying organized is essential when it comes to medication. Consider using a pill organizer or ask the pharmacist for tips on keeping track of medications. If your older adult has vision problems, ask the pharmacist for large print labels on medication bottles.


6. Follow directions
Be sure your older adult takes their medicines exactly as the doctor has prescribed. Make sure you and they understand how, when, and for how long the medication should be taken.

Fill prescriptions at the same pharmacy so they’ll have a record of all the medications that are being taken. Let them know if there were any bad reactions so they can keep that on file.


7. Report problems
If your older adult develops new health problems after starting a new medication, it may be a negative reaction. Tell the doctor immediately.

If the reaction causes a serious issue, like difficulty breathing or swelling in the throat, call 911 and go to the emergency room right away.


8. Medication don’ts
Your older adult should never take medication that isn’t prescribed for them or has passed its expiration date.

They also shouldn’t stop taking medication because they feel better. They should not drink alcohol when taking certain medications.


Next Step  Print or save Health in Aging’s tip sheet on avoiding overmedication in seniors


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: pharmacy 2.0 and 1/2


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