Medication Safety: Aging Adults are Vulnerable to Medication Errors

As we age, our bodies respond differently to medications. Learn about the potential risks and how to stay safe with medication use as an aging adult. Tips for identifying reactions and drug interactions, keeping a medication list, and being an educated healthcare consumer.

Medication Safety: Aging Adults are Vulnerable to Medication Errors
Medication safety

Medication safety is a major issue for the aging adult. Some seniors wake up and run every day into their 80’s and 90’s. For others, getting up in the morning takes a major effort. Today the aging adult is living longer, healthier and more productive lives. This aging population is benefiting from the revolutionary advances in medical developments.

This is a bonus as well as a curse for the aging adult. There are as many as 80 percent of the aging population is on a confusing drug regime. And of those, less than 30 percent take their drugs as ordered. This causes medication safety to be very important.

More often than not, the aging adult is seeing more than one physician. They see specialists for heart, eyes, diabetes and mental health professionals. The list could go on. Some physicians may not realize how many other doctors their patients are seeing. Some experts estimate that some seniors take an average of four to six medications on a daily basis. Estimates are that as many as 80 percent of aging adults use either herbal remedies or vitamins.

So, it is very important to understand, how the aging process can affect how an individual responds to a medication. The aging process and medications make us understand the importance of medication safety. Medications taken as we age may have a very different result in a younger person. Our aging bodies respond differently because our internal organs process things differently.

For example:

• Our stomachs may not absorb food and medications as it did when we were younger

• Our kidneys and liver do not eliminate fluids and toxins in the same efficient manner

• Our immune systems decline, making us more prone to infection and cancer

• Our lung capacity decreases. This increases our risk for pneumonia and diseases caused by smoking

• Our heart and circulatory systems do not work at their peak performance as they did when we were younger

• Our body’s weight and composition changes. So a “usual dosage” of medications may need change

• Our mental alertness may deteriorate. This is due to chemical changes or clogged arteries that has caused brain cell damage. causing forgetfulness, depression and anxiety

• Our skin becomes more vulnerable to tears, bruising and infection

• Our senses diminish. Our sight, hearing, taste, and even mobility can become a problem. ( Driving a car can become a problem with side effects from medications)

These changes that occur in our body as we age, can cause potential harm. This may occur as medication may remain in the body longer, causing an overdose or an adverse side effect.

Two of the biggest problems that aging adults have with medications are:

• Reactions from mixing two or more drugs. Known as drug interaction can have bad results

• Taking a medication on a regular basis, your body may take longer for the drug to start working. The drug may stay in your body longer, resulting in having too much if that medication in your system.

Medication Training

Do you know how to identify that you may be reacting to a drug?
It is very important to become an educated healthcare consumer. To assure safe medication use, we, as consumers, must share in the responsibility. This includes physician and pharmacists. The consequences that can occur with medications can be life altering.

Any new signs and symptoms developed while taking a medication, may be as a side effect of a medication.

First, it is important to keep a list of all medicine including:
• Prescription drugs
• Over-the-counter medicines
• Vitamins
• Herbal remedies
• Nutritional products.

It is important to also include allergies to drugs and food on that list.

This list should updated and give copies given to every physician, healthcare provider. It will save you time and stress. Present this information every time you are admitted to the hospital as well.

It is also your responsibility to be fully prepared for medical appointments. Take a notebook and write down everything you want to talk about. Include important questions related to present medications. If a new medication is prescribed, here are a few questions to ask the doctor and the pharmacist.

Do not let the doctor make you feel rushed. Do not allow yourself to feel as if you are taking up too much of the doctor’s time. This is your time, your appointment. You should not leave until you understand… and have covered all the issues to your satisfaction.

Here are a few questions that you may consider asking:

o Why is this new medication being prescribed?

o How does this medicine work in my body?

o What can I expect to feel when I start taking this medication?

Is there a typical time when I should expect some improvement?

• How can I expect to feel after I take this medications?

• Is there a timeframe that I will be on this medicine?

• Will I need to get it refilled when this prescription is finished?

• Is there any possible interactions with my other medications? Or nutritional supplements that I take?

• Is there any activities I should avoid while taking this medication?

• Should I take this medicine with food?

• Are there any foods or beverages I should avoid while taking this medication?

• Is it safe to drink alcohol while on this medication?

• Can this medicine be chewed, crushed, dissolved, or mixed with other medications?

• What side effects may I experience from this drug?

• Is there anything that I can do to prevent a side effect from occurring?

• At what point do I call you if I experience a problem with this medication?

• What should I do if I miss a dose or take an extra dose by mistake?

• Is there a less expensive alternative to this drug available?

• If the generic is available, should I buy that versus the brand name medicine?

• Do you have written information about this medicine that I can take home with me? (The pharmacist most likely will have that information if the physician does not)

• This question is one for your pharmacist. Do you provide home delivery? Do you offer medication review and counseling?

Review your medications once a year with your pharmacist and primary care physician. Ask if there are any medications that can be decreased or eliminated?

How to Prevent Adverse Drug Events

Have a story about medications and challenges of safety? Have a medication system that works for you? Please share here? Help others realize that they are not alone. Submit Your Caregiver Story
Have more questions? Check out the Frequently Asked Question section of the website. You will find a lot of different questions answered directly.

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