General Health Article:

Age safely by being cautious with medicines

If you feel like you're taking more medicines as you get older, you're not alone. Although individuals over the age of 65 represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, they take 32 percent of the drugs prescribed by health care providers. And while medicines are powerful in the battle against disease, they must be used carefully to assure a positive and safe benefit.

"As we age, our bodies may be at increased risk for problems related to using medicines," explains Dr. Peggy Soule Odegard, a professor in the University of Washington's Department of Pharmacy and a pharmacist who works with Evergreen Healthcare. "We become more sensitive to the effects of certain medicines, and we may no longer be able to process them as efficiently as before. An aging body is also more prone to side effects. That means special caution must be taken to monitor the use of prescription and non-prescription drugs.

The Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of 30 not-for-profit and public organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of seniors, offers these suggestions to help ensure that older adults use medicines appropriately.

  • Make sure your primary care physician - and all other health care providers you see - are fully informed of every medicine you are taking. That includes prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal supplements and natural remedies. Take the pill bottles with you to appointments to ensure that your doctor has access to all the important information. Carry an updated list of your medicines with you at all times.
  • Get all your prescriptions from the same pharmacy. Your pharmacist is an important partner in your health care and should be aware of all the medicines you are taking. Drug interactions and side effects may result from mixing medicines, and a pharmacist can advise you about potentially dangerous combinations.
  • Work with your doctor and pharmacist to understand your illness, why each treatment is needed, how long you will need to take any medicine, and how you will know it is working. Fully understand the potential side effects and how you can avoid them. Know when you should report certain side effects and what to do if they occur.
  • Older adults are more susceptible to the side effects caused by certain medications like narcotic pain relievers, some allergy pills and tranquilizers. Your doctor or pharmacist may be able to suggest an alternative medicine with lower risk to older adults if one of these drugs is causing too many side effects.
  • Ask your physician to periodically review all your medicines to be sure you still need to take them all.
  • Lifestyle changes may allow you to get by on a lower dose of medicine or, ultimately, avoid the use of medication completely. For example, you can reduce your blood pressure if you stop smoking, exercise regularly or lose weight. High cholesterol can be lowered by eating a healthier diet.

For more information on living options as we age - or for free and confidential answers to all your questions about life as an older adult - call the Healthy Aging Partnership's toll-free information and assistance line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) or visit the Web site at www.4elders.org. HAP is generously supported by HAP partner agencies, Puget Sound Energy and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.