Medication Management and Safety Tips

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As people age, they are often required to take more medications. Nearly one-third of adults ages 57 to 85 take at least five prescription drugs and those with chronic illnesses may take more than 20 prescription drugs, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More drugs mean more potential for side-effects, mix-ups or adverse reactions with other prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, supplements and even food. However, the majority of caregivers and patients are not aware of any of the warnings that come along with their medications. But almost every medication comes with warnings about potential health risks and side effects, both mild and serious. Proper medication management is needed to ensure elderly safety.

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Talk About Medication Management

It is important for caregivers, patients, and family members to be aware and stay informed about medication management.

Some senior medication safety questions to consider include:

  • Are the medications being taken properly according to the label or doctor’s instructions?
  • Are all prescriptions current?
  • Does the patient understand any potential side effects of the medication or any potential interactions with their other prescriptions or over-the-counter medications or supplements?
  • Are all of the patient’s doctors aware of all prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and/or supplements being taken by the patient?
  • Is the patient using any sort of medication management tools such as a pill box or a Alert1 Medication Reminder and Dispenser?

The FDA has provided an up-to-date medications list that is wise to keep on hand to share with caregivers and physicians.  

Safe and Smart Medication Storage

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Contrary to what many people think, medications should not be stored in your bathroom medicine cabinet. Bathrooms vary greatly in temperature from showers or baths. The heat and humidity in bathrooms damages medicine and causes it to deteriorate.

  • Store medications in a cool, dry area that is convenient to access.  A dark drawer or cabinet that is not exposed to heat or sunlight is ideal.
  • Keep the medications in the bottles they came in. The amber color of the bottle protects the medicine from heat. The label keeps all your information (what medicine it is, how often to take, prescription refill number, and pharmacy phone number) easily accessible.
  • If your loved one lives with a spouse or other family members, keep everyone’s medications separate. This will decrease the chance of taking the wrong medication.
  • Your loved one may find it helpful to keep their medications near a counter or tabletop. They can rest the pill bottle on a flat surface when opening the container to fill their Medication Reminder and Dispenser. If your loved on happens to drop the pill, it will land on the tabletop (as opposed to going down the sink drain).
  • Make sure there is adequate lighting where medicines are stored to ensure the senior is taking the right prescription. Medications should never be taken in the dark.  

An Annual Check-up for the Medicine Cabinet

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To improve the health and safety of the elderly, caregivers should do an annual “check-up” of their loved one’s medicine cabinet. Seniors will improve their medication management by reviewing their medicines and discussing concerns with their medical providers.

Here are some guidelines for your annual check-up:

  • Check the expiration date on each package.  Outdated medications may not work like they used to or have become a thriving breeding ground for bacteria. Discard out-of-date medications.
  • Look inside each bottle (even if it’s not outdated) to ensure that the content are not discolored, dried out, or crumbling. Discard items that have outlived their shelf life.  
  • Dispose of recalled medications. Recalled medications have surged in recent years. It is always a good idea to look for recalled medications in your loved ones cabinet. While many of these recalls are deemed “not dangerous,” the medications will not be as effective as intended. You can check if a medication has been recalled at www.recalls.gov
  • Make sure the medicine in the original container. This will ensure there are no mix ups.
  • Discard leftover prescription medicines from a previous illness or condition. They should never be used to treat symptoms that seem similar to a previous illness. The symptoms may seem the same, but the cause could be different or the medicine may not be the right one this time around.
  • Restock supplies that are low or missing. This is especially important for drugs needed in emergencies and severe illnesses. Always make sure these are up-to-date and on hand. 

Proper Disposal of Medications

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It is important to properly dispose of pharmaceuticals. Consider the safety of children, pets, and the environment around you.

Federal Guidelines urges consumers to:

  • Take unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers and throw them in the trash.
  • Mix prescription drugs with an unpalatable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in non-descript containers, such as empty cans or sealable bags.
  • Flush prescription medications down the toilet only if the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs to do so.
  • When disposing of a prescription bottle, always remove the label and scratch off all personal information.
  • Take advantage of community pharmaceutical take-back programs or community solid waste programs. If you have a program available in your area, this is a good way to dispose of unused pharmaceuticals.