It pays to be careful when adding new medications for seniors
Most older adults take multiple medications, so it’s important to make sure that adding any new medicine is done carefully to avoid causing serious health problems.
This is essential because certain medications are known to negatively affect other drugs. The doctor should make sure that there are no conflicts with the prescription medicine, over-the-counter medicine, vitamins, and supplements that your older adult is currently taking.
Unfortunately, there are doctors who may not take the time to check that a new medication won’t cause problems. If that happens, use your right as your older adult’s health advocate and ask them for the information you need to keep your older adult safe.
We highlight the National Institute on Aging’s 14 important questions to ask the doctor when starting new medication. We also summarize additional safety tips, how a pharmacist can provide extra help, and how to deal with negative medication side effects.
14 key questions to ask when starting new medications for seniors
It may seem excessive to ask all these questions, but starting a new medication is a serious matter.
These 14 questions help to make sure that the medicine is needed and will be taken correctly. They also alert you to side effects to watch for and give you a plan for what to do if side effects happen.
- What is the name of the medicine and why should it be taken?
- What medical condition does this medicine treat?
- How many times a day should it be taken? At what time(s)? For example, if the bottle says take “4 times a day,” does that mean 4 times in 24 hours or 4 times during the daytime?
- How much of the medicine should be taken? (dosage)
- Should the medicine be taken with food or not? Is there anything that should not be eaten or drank when taking this medicine?
- How long will it take this medicine to work?
- Will this medicine cause problems with other medicines, vitamins, or supplements that are currently being taken? Should any current medications be stopped or adjusted?
- Is it safe to drive while taking this medication?
- What does “as needed” mean?
- When should this medicine be stopped?
- If a medication dose is missed, what should be done?
- What side effects should we expect? What should we do if there is a problem?
- Will a refill be needed? How do we arrange that? For example, sometimes opioids need a new prescription every time a refill is needed.
- On each doctor visit, ask if all current medications are still needed or if any should be discontinued.
A few more important medication safety tips
Before they prescribe any medication, the doctor should know about ALL the medicines your older adult is taking.
That includes ALL medication prescribed by other doctors, vitamins, supplements, herbal remedies, and over-the-counter drugs – even if only used once in a while.
Also, go over your older adult’s allergies and any problems they’ve had with other medicines. Remind the doctor of any negative side effects that have happened, like rashes, trouble breathing, indigestion, dizziness, or mood changes.
Get additional help from a pharmacist
Even after asking plenty of questions during the doctor’s visit, more questions could come up later. Another qualified expert you can speak with is a pharmacist.
Important questions for a pharmacist:
- Tell the pharmacist if your older adult has trouble swallowing pills. Liquid medicine or other formulations could be available.
- If you’re thinking of having your older adult chew, break, or crush tablets (for example: to put in applesauce), first ask the pharmacist if the drug will still work that way.
- On the bottle or container, make sure the name of the medicine, the directions, and any warning stickers are clear and easy to read. If anything is difficult to read, ask the pharmacist to use larger type for the labels.
- Make sure you (or your older adult) can open the medication container. If not, ask for easy open containers.
- Ask of there are any special instructions for storing the medicine. For example, should it be kept in the refrigerator or in a dry place (i.e. not in the bathroom)?
- Make sure your older adult isn’t allergic to any of the medication ingredients. It helps if the pharmacist has a current list of their allergies.
- Pro tip: Always make sure the label on the medication has your older adult’s name on it and the medication and directions prescribed by their doctor. If it doesn’t, don’t accept it. Take it back to the pharmacist immediately.
How to deal with negative side effects
When someone takes medication, it could cause unwanted or unexpected symptoms.
Side effects can be minor, like headache or dry mouth. They could also be life-threatening, like severe bleeding or irreversible damage to the liver or kidneys. Many medications can also increase fall risk by affecting balance or make driving unsafe.
If your older adult has any side effects, even if they’re minor, write down what they are and when they happen. Call the doctor immediately and give them an accurate report of the side effects. They might be able to change the medication to another that will work just as well, but have fewer side effects.
Recommended for you:
- 6 Common Medication Problems in Seniors and 6 Ways to Solve Them
- Medications Seniors Should Avoid: The Beers List
- 10 Medications That Cause Falls: Use with Caution
By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Sterling Case Management
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