Seniors may be more prone to illness due to the weakening of the body's natural defenses. It's not surprising, therefore, that many require a greater number of drugs to treat their health problems. Because seniors also tend to have more than one health problem, they may receive multiple prescriptions or they may combine prescription drugs with over-the-counter products or with natural remedies. Given that the aging body is more sensitive to the effects of many medications, the combinations can cancel the benefits of any or all medications and produce adverse reactions, such as memory loss, sleepiness, agitation and confusion. These effects have been associated with falls and other injuries. Checklist:
- Have you talked to your health care professional about alternatives to medication? (Medication may not always be the best solution.)
- Have you told all your doctors and your pharmacist about all of the medicine you're taking (prescription, over-the-counter or herbal) as well as your use of alcohol and/or tobacco?
- Do you read the instructions on each of your medication containers to check for side effects or possible ill effects of combining with another medication?
- Do you take your medication exactly as prescribed or know of any alternative instructions should you forget to take it?
- Do you have a list of what medications you are currently taking, and is your family aware of it?
- If you have medication allergies, do you wear a bracelet or necklace to show this?
- If you react to a medicine or experience side effects, do you report it to your doctor or pharmacist?
- Do you use only one pharmacy for all your prescription needs?
- Have you gone through your medicine cabinet and discarded any medicines that are past the "Best before" date?
- Whenever you get a new medicine, do you ask and obtain all the information on its use and side effects?
Tips: Don't mix drugs and alcohol. Alcohol can react with many common medications including tranquillizers, sleeping pills, cold or allergy medicines, high blood pressure pills and pain medication. To inform your doctor or pharmacist about all the medications you take, put all your medications, including herbal remedies, over-the-counter and non-prescription medicines in a bag and take it to your next doctor's appointment or pharmacy visit. Margaret's story Margaret Deschamps believes in being on top of the medications she's taking. One of her friends suffered from an accidental overdose of medication because she'd gone to two different doctors and was prescribed two different drugs with similar ingredients. Margaret has always been careful about her medicine, and this made her even more so. "I make sure I know everything there is to know about my medication's side effects and bad combinations. I've found out that there's one pill I take that can't be combined with grapefruit! It's really important to ask the questions. There's no reason to be afraid: you ask, and you get an answer. When you go to the drugstore, they can write everything down for you (about your medication), the side effects and all. They'll even check if you're taking medication from another doctor." As Margaret explains, you can often have several doctors - "a general practitioner, a heart specialist, a rheumatologist - and one doesn't always know what the other ones are giving you. But if you go to the same drugstore and you're prescribed something that, along with your other medication, could cause an adverse reaction or an overdose, they can let you know. They can contact the doctors, if necessary. This is a marvelous service that many drugstores offer now."
Reproduced from the Public Health Agency of Canada website.