Advances in pharmaceuticals are helping Americans live longer, healthier lives. However, older adults often take multiple medications, raising the risk of harmful mixtures resulting in adverse side effects.
According to Merck’s Institute of Aging & Health, more than a third of older adults take at least five different prescription drugs. More than likely, people who take multiple prescription medications will also self-prescribe additional over-the-counter medicines to help manage their symptoms.
Taking any medicine in conjunction with other medications without physician consent is not advised. Due to the interaction of ingredients and the way medications are processed as the body ages, one drug may interfere with another, or the combination may cause severe side effects.
Over-the-counter drugs (pain relievers, laxatives, cold medicines, antacids) and herbal supplements need to be taken with care. Antihistamines contain diphenhydramine (found in sleep aids like Unisom and allergy medicines such as Benadryl) and can cause drowsiness and blurred vision in older adults, which may result in falls and confusion. It is best to avoid sleep aids altogether and talk to your doctor about safer options.
Many over-the-counter drugs contain the same ingredients found in prescription medications, so when they are taken together an excessively high dose of the active ingredient can be ingested.
A good first step to prevent drug interactions is to keep an accurate list of your medications including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements. Carry it with you at all times so it can be accessed anywhere – at the dentist’s office, a specialist appointment or in an emergency.
Be an active participant in your healthcare and medication management. Follow these tips to promote medication safety:
- Keep an updated medication list with you at all times.
- Understand the reason, frequency, dosage and side effects of each medication.
- Ask: Is this medication right for me? Will it interfere with my other medications?
- Ask your doctor before taking over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements.
- Use the same pharmacy for all prescriptions.
- Copy your medication list for a relative or friend in case of emergency.
- Take your medication list to all doctor appointments and have him/her update the list if there is any change.
- Tidy up your medicine cabinet.
Always speak with your healthcare provider before taking any new medications, vitamins, supplements or over-the-counter drugs.