Avoiding Prescription Problems

If you are an average person over 55, you may be taking up to 8 different medications every day. That’s a statistic widely reported by Paula Span, who writes The New Old Age blog for the New York Times.

Juggling that many medications requires extra attention. Seniors who are also caring for their parents and all their prescriptions may find these tips helpful:

Be aware of language

There is no standardized wording for prescription instructions, so different doctors may be using different words to say the same thing. For example, the following phrases may mean different things to the average pill-taker, but doctors use them all to indicate that a medication should be taken twice daily:

  • “Take twice daily”
  • “Take every 12 hours”
  • “Take morning and evening”
  • “Take with breakfast and before bed”

Being aware that different words can mean the same thing may help you simplify your medication schedule. In fact, you can ask your doctor for clarification too. When he prescribes a new pill, ask if you can take it at the same time as your other pills. If you take your completed Health Info Kit with you to each appointment, you can show your doctor your complete list of medications (or your parents’) and ask for his help grouping them into a workable dosage schedule.

Use tools

Ronni Bennett is a 70-year-old blogger at Time Goes By, and when she posted about difficulties keeping track of medications, she asked for tips from her readers. Her readers responded with 20 ideas that ranged from using Google docs to arranging pill bottles in a specific order in a specific place. Many of these pill-takers rely on tools such as weekly pill containers with up to four slots per day for doses that need to be taken at morning, noon, evening, and bedtime. And many have a personal system for organizing their doses once a week.

Get help

Providence At Home (the in-home care division of Providence Life Services) offers “medication reconciliation” as one of their specialties. Brandy Shifteh, Vice President of Home and Community Based Services, cites statistics from the New England Journal of Medicine that show if you are hospitalized as a Medicare-aged adult, you have a 20% chance of being re-hospitalized within 30 days of discharge. In some cases, the rate is higher than 70%. And medication errors are the leading cause of re-hospitalization.

“At the hospital,” Brandy explains, “patients are often prescribed new medication, and sometimes their current prescriptions are discontinued. Without proper education and follow-up, patients are likely to make mistakes with their meds when they return home. We spend time and make sure they understand how and when to take their medications. We explain what each medication does and how they all interact with each other. We develop an easy-to-follow medication schedule, which is very helpful to already-overwhelmed patients.”

The potential for prescription problems increases each time you add a medication to your regimen. But being aware of the risk is the first step to avoiding problems!

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