Medications can cure and medications can kill. They can relieve pain and suffering and they can cause pain and suffering. It can happen at any age, but as we get older it’s especially important to take medications appropriately and safely, or the results can be devastating.
Every year, more than 100,000 people are hospitalized because of adverse or unfavorable reactions to drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “older adults (65 years or older) are twice as likely as others to come to emergency departments for adverse drug events (over 177,000 emergency visits each year) and nearly seven times more likely to be hospitalized after an emergency visit.”
As we discussed in our last Advantage Home Care blog post, people over 65 buy more than 25 percent of all prescription medicines and 30 percent of all nonprescription medicines. The older you are, the more likely it is that you must take several medications.
Al, who is in his 80s, took about 18 different medications every day for several chronic health conditions. As his memory began to decline, his daughter began to manage his medications. She had no idea he took so many and worried that one or two might be causing, instead of alleviating, some of her father’s symptoms. They went over each medication with his doctor, and were able to eliminate a few that had, in fact, contributed to his confusion and memory loss.
You should ask the following questions about each medication you take
- Is it necessary?
- Is it the right medication for the illness or condition?
- Is it the right dose?
- Will it react with other medications?
- Does it need to be taken at certain times or with/without food?
- What are possible side effects?
- What might happen if a dose is missed or increased by mistake?
Because Al still took a lot of medications, his daughter bought a pill organizer, which she filled weekly. Because they had asked the right questions, she knew which pills had to be taken at certain times of the day and which ones had to be taken with food or on an empty stomach. Once the routine was established it became easier to manage. She wrote it all down so that it was easy to understand and also kept an updated record to bring to all doctor’s appointments.
One of the medicines Al took was a blood thinner called warfarin. To make sure he got the right dosage and that his blood didn’t get too thin, every few weeks he needed a blood test.
Medicines that require regular blood testing
- Blood thinners
- Diabetes medicines
- Seizure medicines
- Heart medicines
If a medication requires regular blood tests, don’t let it slide. One of the more common medication-related reasons elderly people end up in the hospital is because they fail to get regular blood tests and are either taking too little or too much of their medicine.
Al is fortunate to have his daughter’s help, but even after going over all of his medications and setting up a routine, problems still occur:
- During a short stay in a rehab facility, he didn’t get his anti-depressant medication and was taken to the emergency room with severe withdrawal symptoms.
- After more than one hospitalization he has returned home with different versions of his regular medications and/or new prescriptions.
- He fell and it was determined that one of his medications might have been to blame because it made him light-headed and dizzy.
Recognizing possible signs of a medication-related problem
When Al was in the rehab facility and was rushed to the emergency room, his main symptom was a debilitating headache. His daughter knew that he never got headaches, so she decided to double-check his medication schedule with the nurse at the rehab facility. They discovered that he hadn’t had his anti-depressant medication at all the past few days, which was the most likely cause of his headache.
If you are taking care of an elderly person, it’s important to pay attention to signs and symptoms that might be related to his/her medication.
- excessive sleepiness
- muscle weakness
- loss of appetite
- changes in speech and memory.
If you have an immediate concern about a medication and consider it an emergency, call 911. Otherwise, it would be a good idea for the individual or a designated family member to go over each medication with the health care provider to make sure they are all appropriate and safe and are being taken correctly. The American Geriatrics Society has an easy to read slide show that offers more information about medication safety.
HOW ADVANTAGE HOME CARE MIGHT HELP
Advantage Home Care provides an array of home care services that includes medication reminders and picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy. If you need extra help for yourself or a loved one, send an email or give us a call 207-699-2570.