Medication Safety

Medications can cure and they can kill. They can relieve pain and suffering and they can cause pain and suffering. It can happen at any age, but as we age it’s especially important to take medications appropriately and safely. If you don’t, the results can be devastating.

Every year, more than 100,000 people are hospitalized due to adverse 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 rooms for adverse drug events. Likewise, they are nearly seven times more likely to be hospitalized after an emergency visit.”

People over 65 buy more than 25 percent of all prescription drugs and 30 percent of all nonprescription medicines. The older you are, the more likely it is that you must take several medications. Medication safety becomes that much more important.

Al, who is in his 80s, took about 18 different medications every day for his chronic health conditions. As his memory began to decline, his daughter began to manage his medications. She didn’t know he took so many and worried that one or two might be causing some of her father’s symptoms. They reviewed each medication with his doctor and were able to eliminate those that contributed to his confusion and memory loss.

You should ask the following questions about each medication you take

  • Is it needed?
  • Is it the right medication for the illness or condition?
  • Will it react with other medications?
  • Is it the right dose?
  • Does it need to be taken at certain times or with/without food?
  • What are the 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. She knew which pills had to be taken with food or on an empty stomach. Once the routine was set it became easier to manage. She wrote it down so it was easy to understand. She 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. Because they fail to get a regular blood test and are taking too little or too much medicine, elderly people can end up in the hospital.

Al is fortunate to have his daughter’s help. Even after she went over all of his medications and set up a routine, problems still occurred:

  • During a short stay in a rehab facility, he didn’t get his anti-depressant medication. He 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 rushed to the emergency room where his main symptom was a debilitating headache. His daughter knew that he never got headaches. 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. That was the most likely cause of his headache.

If you are caring for an elderly person, pay attention to signs and symptoms that might be related to his/her medication.

  • excessive sleepiness
  • confusion
  • depression
  • delirium
  • insomnia
  • tremors
  • incontinence
  • muscle weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • falls
  • changes in speech and memory

If you have a concern about medication and consider it an emergency, call 911. Otherwise, go over each medicine with the health care provider to make sure they are all appropriate and safe and are being taken correctly. The American Geriatrics Society has unveiled an update to one of geriatrics’ most frequently cited reference tools: The AGS Beers Criteria® for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults.

Advantage Home Care provides an array of home care services. They include 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 at 207-699-2570.

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