As we age, normal changes in the body can affect the way we process medications. For example, liver and kidney function may decrease, which can affect how a drug breaks down and is eliminated from the body.
"There is no question that physiology changes as we age. Many chronic medical conditions don't even appear until our later years," said Sandra L. Kweder, M.D., F.A.C.P., deputy director of the FDA Office of New Drugs. "It's not that people are falling to pieces; some changes are just part of the normal aging process."
Because of these changes and the fact that we tend to take more medications as we get older, seniors are at higher risk for adverse drug events. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults 65 years or older are twice as likely to come to emergency departments for adverse drug events (over 177,000 emergency visits each year) and nearly seven times more likely to be hospitalized after an emergency visit.
To reduce the risk of adverse drug events, here are four medication safety tips from the FDA:
- Take medications as prescribed. Understand why you are being prescribed medication and take all medications as prescribed by your health care provider. Do not discontinue medication or skip doses without first talking with your provider. If you are experiencing side effects, let your provider know. A pill organizer can help you keep track of dosages.
- Keep a record of all medications. A medication profile is a list of all medications (prescription, over-the-counter and supplements) you take. Keep an updated profile in your wallet so you can discuss it with your physician and pharmacist. If you are being treated by more than one health care professional, you should let each doctor know what the others have prescribed. It is also a good idea to keep a copy of your medication profile in an easy-to-find location in the house (such as on the refrigerator). In the event of a medical emergency, it is important that first responders have this information.
- Understand potential interactions and side effects. Ask your health care provider about potential side effects and interactions. Carefully read the drug facts that come with medications. Know what drugs, foods and beverages can cause an interaction, whether a drug is potentially harmful with an existing medical condition and if you should avoid alcohol use
- Review medications on a regular basis. Ideally, you should discuss all medications at each visit with a health care provider. If this isn’t possible, schedule at least one review a year.
If you or an older loved one needs help remembering to take medications as prescribed, ComForCare/At Your Side Home Care can help. Our caregivers can provide medication reminders as well as assist with scheduling and attending appointments with health care providers. To learn more about our services, download our 50 Ways We Can Help checklist.