How to Manage Medications Safely

Statistics indicate that the average senior takes four to five prescription medications daily and potentially two over-the-counter products as well. Individuals could be consuming 10 to 15 pills in one day. Research also indicates that a senior will use roughly 25 different prescription medications during the course of a year. Managing this many medications can be tricky.

Seniors rely on a myriad of medications for various health conditions. Oftentimes, these meds are prescribed by different specialists with little to no coordination between them. Doctors often rely on patient information regarding prescription usage to complete medical history forms and determine whether another medication is safe to take. It is easy for the elderly to forget about a medication he or she is taking or mix it up with another when the person is managing so many pills. Drug interactions can be dangerous and potentially fatal. Therefore it is essential to manage meds as carefully as possible.

1. The first step to take is to make a list of all medications that you are currently taking. If you use one pharmacy (highly adviseable for record-keeping and notification of drug interactions), you can ask the pharmacy to print a list of the pills you take. It will have the actual names and show your prescription history. Make copies of this list. Store one at home in a file cabinet, and keep others in your wallet or purse to bring with you to doctors' appointments. When asked about prescriptions, you'll have your list ready and waiting.

2. Make sure you fully understand dosage and duration of medications when your doctor prescribes something. Doctors stereotypically have poor handwriting on prescriptions. Therefore, do not hesitate to ask that the instructions be repeated. Verify the instructions with the pharmacist when picking up the medication.

3. Store all medication in the original containers so that you have the proper dosage and expiration dates. This will make renewals and dosage checks easier.

4. If you take multiple pills each day, it can be handy to use a pill organizer separated into days of the week and times of the day. At the beginning of each week, use your pill bottles to measure out what pills you need to take at each time. If you feel confused about this process, ask a family member, friend or even the pharmacy to help.

5. Read the safety information provided with prescription medications. It will tell you what you can and can't do while taking a medication, as well as potential side effects. If you have any concerns about the information, speak with the pharmacist or call your doctor. You're always better safe than sorry.

6. Store prescriptions where they are accessible by you but not by other members of the family. If you are sharing a home with a spouse or someone else who takes multiple medications, keep your pills separate from the others. You may want to color-code bottles or organizers so you can easily see what pills are yours or your spouse's.

7. Avoid taking medication in the dark or while tired. You may take the wrong pill and risk overdose.

8. Keep medications away from young children, especially visiting grandchildren.

9. Routinely check expiration dates on bottles. Discard expired medication promptly.

10. If your doctor tells you to stop taking a medication, dispose of it promptly.

11. Always take the prescription as prescribed by a doctor. Don't play with dosage or skip pills because you feel like it. Also, don't abruptly stop taking a medication. Some prescriptions require you to gradually wean off.

12. If a medication's side effects are making you ill or you do not feel right or improved while taking a medication, consult with your doctor. You know your body best.

13. Alcohol interacts with many different prescriptions. Be careful of mixing alcohol and drugs.