Two out of every five seniors take five or more prescription medications, according to a survey from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. And yet, many older adults don’t take their medicine as directed, even for a chronic disease, according to a review in the Annals of Internal Medicine. People either forget doses or stop taking their medicine.
Staying on top of your medication regimen is a team effort involving you, your doctor, and your pharmacist. Here are a few reasons why:
- Older adults often have more than one prescribing physician, making it difficult to track medicines.
- Physiological changes related to aging affect the absorption, metabolism, and excretion of drugs. This means a regimen requires close observation and possible modification over time.
- Some medicines can interact with one another, or with food, and make the medicine either less effective or too potent.
- Some medicines are associated with a risk of falls or other accidents, resulting from side effects or drug interactions causing drowsiness or dizziness.
To manage multiple medications more easily and safely, it helps to be proactive, says Jessica Merrey, PharmD, clinical pharmacy specialist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and certified geriatric pharmacist.
7 Strategies for Managing Your Medications
Here are seven top strategies offered by Dr. Merrey and experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Use a visual cue chart. This approach helps to develop a successful habit and to improve your memory of the steps involved in a routine. In this case, maximizing adherence to your medication regimen also increases safety. Use brightly colored pieces of paper with pictures on them. Line them up on the bathroom mirror or on the refrigerator showing: which medicine to take in the morning; which to take in the evening; and which to take along with brushing your teeth or along with food.
Review your medicines with your doctor or pharmacist. That way, your doctor or pharmacist can identify whether you’re taking any medicine, or combination of medicines, associated with a fall risk. Some such medicines include: antidepressants; sleep aids; high blood pressure medicine; antihistamines; and medicines for overactive bladder.
The CDC urges healthcare providers to evaluate all of the medicines that each patient takes. In some cases, stopping medication may be appropriate. In other cases, switching to a safer alternative or reducing medications to the lowest effective dose might be a better approach.
Ask your pharmacist about possible food-drug interactions in the regimen you currently follow. For instance, research shows that vitamin K in green leafy vegetables can interfere with the effectiveness of blood thinners, like Coumadin and Warfarin. Alcohol can increase the effects of insulin or other diabetes drugs. And grapefruit can lead to excessively high levels of a medicine used for high blood pressure.
Fill your prescriptions at one pharmacy. Using one pharmacy keeps your medication records in one place. Your pharmacist can help track all of your medicines; evaluate any risks, including potential negative drug interactions; and consult with your doctor if need be. By going to one pharmacy, you’re also more likely to pick up refills on time—taking medicine as directed.
Get multiple medications on the same refill schedule. Ask your pharmacist for help in syncing up the refill schedule for all of your medications. Some pharmacies work with your insurance company and your doctor to align your refill dates so you can pick them up at the same time. You’ll make fewer trips to the pharmacy and enhance adherence to your medication schedule.
Use a pill dispenser as a reminder system. Use a pill dispenser with compartments for each day of the week—and for morning, noon, and night if you take medications several times a day. This lets you quickly see whether you’ve taken your medicine yet.
Use a medication management tool that includes remote patient monitoring. Talk to your doctor about the range of tools available that use technology and smart design to supervise medication use and to remind patients to take their medicines on time and as directed by their doctor.
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