Senior Alternatives

Care Management and Home Care Services
Medication Management for Older Adults

March 31, 2021

Although medications do often help maintain health and well-being, studies have repeatedly shown that many older adults end up suffering from problems related to medication.


About 80% of older adults regularly take at least two prescription medications, and 36% regularly take at least five prescription drugs, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. These rates are higher when over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements are included.


The aging process, along with medical conditions, often impacts the benefits and side effects of medications. The aging process can affect how the medication is absorbed, used in the body, and exits the body. For seniors who live at home, understanding steps to managing medications effectively can help keep them safe. Caregivers and other elderly care providers can also assist with medication management. There are several steps you can take to lower your chances of overmedication and negative reactions to medicines. Keep the following tips in mind for safe medication use. Always ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have any questions about your medications.


Make a list

Keep a list of all the medications you take—both non-prescription and prescription. This list should include all medications including prescriptions, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, herbal remedies, vitamins and other supplements, and creams and ointments.  You should also write down the doses and what they are for, and bring the list with you whenever you see a healthcare professional. You can also write down any questions you have about your medicines, so you don’t have to try to remember during the short time you have with your provider. If you have a caregiver, they can also assist with this process.


Review your medications regularly

Whenever you see your healthcare provider, make sure to go over your medication list and questions with them, especially after you’ve been in the hospital or seen by another provider. This way, they will know what new medications and supplements you are taking or any changes that have been made. They can also check whether the medications might be causing side effects, or could cause side effects, if taken along with a new medication.


Look out for Side Effects

Ask what side effects your medications can cause, and watch for them. If you think you may be having a bad reaction to a medication, or if you think a medication is not working, tell your healthcare provider as soon as possible. However, don’t stop taking a medication without first checking with a healthcare provider.


Ask about Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are sold at pharmacies, grocery stores, and other places, and you can buy these medicines on your own without a prescription. However, that doesn’t mean that they are safer or have fewer side effects than a prescription medication. Some OTC medications can make your condition worse, cause side effects, or may interact with another medicine you may be taking. Examples of OTC medications include: Tylenol (acetaminophen), a pain medicine; Allegra (fexofenadine), an allergy medicine; Tums (calcium carbonate), a stomach acid medicine.


Review Medications If You’re in the Hospital

If you are in the hospital, make sure the hospital team knows about all the prescription and OTC medications, vitamins, supplements, and herbal products you take at home. While in the hospital, the hospital team will be responsible for giving you the medicines you need. Do not take any medications on your own during your hospital stay. Sometimes, you may be prescribed new medications during your hospital stay. Ask if you need to continue taking them after you leave the hospital, and make sure your caregiver, family member, or social worker reviews the list as well.


Many older adults cope with more than one medical condition at the same time. Often, that can mean that the older adult needs many different medications. When older adults take five or more medicines, it is called “polypharmacy.” With polypharmacy, the medicines may interact with each other and with your body in harmful ways. For example, the medications can increase negative side effects or decrease benefits. Also, if you have experienced an unwanted symptom (such as having had a fall or having memory problems), be sure to tell your healthcare provider – and ask if this could be caused by one of your medicines.

The more awareness you have, the safer you can be with medication.

Although medications do often help maintain health and well-being, studies have repeatedly shown that many older adults end up suffering from problems related to medication.

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