Written by Barbara E. Riley
Monday, 22 September 2008 10:40
Older adults make up nearly 13 percent of the population, but they buy 33 percent of all prescription drugs and 40 percent of all over-the-counter medicines, according to the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities.
Studies also show that most older Americans live with at least one chronic condition, take multiple medications, consult several healthcare providers and use more than one pharmacy.
If you add to this mix a lack of communication between patients and healthcare providers about medications, the stage is set for potentially serious drug-related problems, including additional illness, hospitalization and even death. Nationally, half of all adverse medication reactions occur among older adults and more than a quarter (28 percent) of all older adult hospitalizations result from medication problems.
The aging process, combined with changes in metabolism, can have a tremendous impact on the way drugs affect an older person’s body. One out of every three people experiences at least one medicine-related problem, such as over use, under use or not following the drug's instructions about when to take it. Adverse drug interactions occur when a drug interacts with another drug, food or alcohol and can change the way the drug acts in the body. For example, grapefruit juice can change the way some drugs work.
The best way to avoid drug-related health problems is to learn all you can about the medicines you use. Your best resources for this information are your healthcare providers and pharmacist. Ask them:
• What am I taking this medicine for?
• Does this new prescription mean I should stop taking any other medicines I'm taking now?
• How should it be taken and how much?
• What if I miss a dose?
• How often and what time of day? For example, does three times a day mean with meals or within a 24-hour period?
• Should I take with or without food?
• When should I stop taking the medicine?
• What side effects or allergic reactions can I expect? What should I do if I have a problem?
• Are there foods, drinks, other medicines or activities to avoid while I'm taking this medicine?
• Will any herbal supplements/vitamins/over the counter medications interact with this medicine?
• Where and how should it be stored?
You can help your healthcare professionals help you by making a list of all the medications you are taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements and herbal remedies. Be sure to include the dosages and how often you take each medication. Your primary care provider should review all of your medications at least annually to make sure you are only taking those you need.
You can also avoid adverse drug interactions by filling all your prescriptions at one pharmacy. Pharmacies have a built-in process of drug interaction alerts. If you fill all of your prescriptions at one pharmacy, they have all the necessary information to alert you if a medication will interact badly with something you are already taking.
Some older adults on fixed incomes may under use their medications - splitting pills or skipping doses - because their prescriptions are too expensive to take as directed. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if there are lower-cost alternatives to the drug you’ve been prescribed. There are also federal and state programs available to help with prescription drug costs. Contact your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678 to learn more.
Ohio's Best Rx can help Ohioans of any age save an average of 33 percent on prescriptions, depending on the medication. Ohioans may apply by telephone for the drug discount card at 1-866-923-7879 (1-866-9BESTRX) or online at www.OhioBestRx.org.
The National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) developed the Medication Use Safety Training (MUST) for Seniors program to help older adults avoid medication misuse and errors and manage common side effects. Free materials are available from www.mustforseniors.org.