As we age, the number of pill bottles in the medicine cabinet just keeps growing, which makes medication management much more important. Even though people 65 and older make up only 12% of the population, they are responsible for 34% of overall prescription medication usage and 30% of over-the-counter medicine usage, according to Medscape.
With such a large percentage of medication usage and a smaller proportion of the overall population, it’s not surprising that adverse drug events, or when someone is hurt by medicine, are a major problem. The CDC says those events lead to about 1.3 million emergency room visits every year.
If you’re in the group of people that have several prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and vitamins or supplements to keep track of, it’s imperative that you start keeping a thorough record of all the medicines you are taking and when you take them. Here’s why.
The Dangers of Medicine Mistakes
The regular use of 5 or more medications, known as polypharmacy, can cause many different problems if not closely monitored.
Increased healthcare costs
The increased cost comes at the expense of both the patient and the healthcare system as a whole. The obvious part of this is the simple fact that the more medications a patient takes, the more that person is spending on medications. The less obvious aspect is more of a snowball effect. Here’s the scenario:
You, the patient, end up going to the emergency room for an issue caused by your medication. You get treated at the emergency room, but your case is severe enough that you have to be admitted to the hospital for a day or two. Just mistakenly taking an extra dose of one of your prescriptions ended with potentially thousands of dollars worth of medical bills.
Adverse Drug Events (ADE)
An ADE is when you have a reaction to a medicine or combination of medicines that result in harm. This could be caused by things like accidentally taking an extra dose of one medicine or having a reaction from taking multiple medications at the same time.
Adults who are advanced in age have a higher risk of drug interaction because people who live longer suffer from more health conditions to manage, which leads to more drug therapy.
An ADE could also be caused by non-adherence. That’s to say, it could be brought on by not taking your prescription as directed or continuing to take it after your doctor or pharmacist advises you to stop using it.
Some medications can make you more prone to falling down, which is associated with injury and sometimes death in seniors. Studies show that as the number of medications a patient takes goes up, the risk of experiencing falls goes up, too.
Tracking Your Medications
It will take a little bit of work up front, but making sure you’re taking your medications at the right times of day, not taking them too often, and not taking medicines that aren’t supposed to be mixed will make it less likely you experience an adverse drug event.
Before Taking a New Medication
Have a thorough discussion with your healthcare provider before you start taking something new. You’ll need to talk through all your symptoms, allergies, or other problems you may be having to make sure you’re getting the right prescription. This is the part where you’ll mention any other medications you take regularly. It will help your physician confirm there won’t be any adverse reactions among them.
Here are some questions you should ask the doctor:
- What is the name of the medicine and why am I taking it?
- How often should I take it, and how much do I take?
- How long will this medicine work, and will it cause problems with any of my other medications?
- Is it safe to drive while taking this?
- Are there any side effects?
- What should I do if I forget to take my medicine?
Ways to Track Them
There are several things you’ll need to do to track what you’re taking. Start by making a list of all the medications you’re taking. You can use a simple worksheet to ensure you’ve got the correct name of the medicine along with all of the pertinent information about it, such as pill size/shape/color, the dosage, and how often you’re supposed to take it.
When it comes to keeping up with the daily regimen, using a simple pill dispenser could be all you need. Using the dispenser will take out that moment of doubt when you ask yourself, “wait, did I take that pill today?” It’s also a good way for a family member or caretaker to help you stick to your medication regimen. You can even get automated dispensers, too.
There’s also the option of pill packs. This service will allow you to receive all your medications in a special packet, all separated by the time of day you’re supposed to take them. This would be the most convenient way to do things, and it’s a great option if you’re worried about filling up a pill dispenser incorrectly on your own.
Using your medication worksheet in conjunction with a pill dispenser or pill packets will have you on autopilot when it comes to medicine tracking.
As a backup, you should create a file and keep all of the paperwork that comes with your prescriptions. Keep it somewhere easily accessible just in case you need to look them over for any reason.
Make Things Easier and Safer
Taking medicines safely will eliminate one of the common reasons older adults end up in the emergency room. Medication management will help keep you safe, and it will make your life a little easier by having all your daily pills divvied up ahead of time.
Be sure you’re following all the instructions of the medicine labels and taking them as directed. If you start experiencing any problems, call your doctor right away. There may be another medication you can take or some other tweak to your treatment plan.
Patients and caregivers can talk to a doctor or pharmacist about why they are prescribing medication or make use of any medication management services that might be available.