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Senior Medication Safety: 9 Important Questions to Ask the Pharmacist

senior medication safety

Because seniors often take multiple medications, they’re at higher risk of drug interactions and negative side effects. Pharmacists are medication experts who can help minimize these risks and keep seniors as healthy as possible. FamilyWize shares 9 essential questions to ask at the pharmacy when picking up your older adult’s prescriptions. They also give 3 tips on how to keep medication organized at home.

8 out of 10 seniors in the United States take at least one medication each day, and many older adults take three or more.

Statins, anticholinergics, benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, and proton pump inhibitors are all commonly prescribed by physicians.

According to the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE), this puts people aged 65 years and older at a significantly higher risk for drug interactions, adverse events, and medication errors.

The best way to lower this risk is to make sure that your older adult’s pharmacist has a very clear picture of all the medications they take, including over-the-counter medicine.

Next, protect your older adult by making sure you, as caregiver, have an equally clear understanding of how those medications need to be stored and administered.

Even though it takes a few extra minutes at the pharmacy counter, speaking to the pharmacist and asking questions is a great way for caregivers to keep older adults safe.

Find out about 9 important questions to ask and 3 tips for keeping medication organized at home.


9 important questions to ask the pharmacist

1. What is the brand name and generic name of this medication? Does the name on the pill container match what the doctor prescribed? If not, why?

Confirming the drug name and whether the doctor requested the brand name or generic medication helps avoid medication errors.

It also ensures that you’ll be able to ask for the correct refill when needed.

2. What is this medication for? Does this take the place of anything else that’s currently being taken? For many older adults, multiple medications may be required to manage their health condition, or even to manage the side effects from a needed primary treatment.

Understanding what a medication is meant to treat is essential for making sure your older adult is only taking the medications they currently need.

This helps reduce the chance of negative drug interactions and side effects.

3. Are there any duplicate or unneeded medications? Some older adults may get some of their medications from a neighborhood pharmacy and others from a mail order pharmacy. Or, they might be seeing more than one doctor or specialist.

In these cases, it’s important to make sure any pharmacists that you’re able to see in person knows all the medications your older adult is currently taking.

Sometimes, seeing more than one doctor results in each doctor prescribing the same kind of therapy, but with a different medication – causing side effects or overmedication.

This is especially problematic with high blood pressure medications and anti-depressants.

If a pharmacist is aware of all your older adult’s medications, they can double-check to make sure that’s not happening.

4. How and when should this medication be taken? All the important instructions should be clearly displayed on the prescription label.

But asking the pharmacist helps clear up anything that’s even a little confusing and makes sure you won’t miss key details.

As a caregiver, this is critical information and gives you confidence when you’re organizing daily doses and planning meals.

5. What should we do if we miss a dose? What if we accidentally take too much? This is an important question for a variety of drugs, where a patient may become ill from skipping a dose or from accidentally taking two doses in one day.

As a caregiver, asking in advance means you’ll know how to respond if a mistake happens.

6. When will the medicine start working? Is there anything we should watch for, like allergic reactions or side effects? A pharmacist who is aware of all the medications a patient is taking can point out possible side effects, like an increased risk of upset stomach due to the specific combination of treatments.

Advertisement 7. Should the patient avoid any other medicines, dietary supplements, foods, or activities while taking this medication? This is key information that should be included on the prescription label, but asking the pharmacist helps to highlight the warnings most relevant to your older adult’s situation.

For example, they could be at an increased risk of dizziness or falling.

8. How should this medication be stored? A warm, humid bathroom is often not the best place to store prescriptions. Asking the pharmacist about storage helps you safely manage medications.

9. How long do these medications need to be taken? Some medications are meant for short-term use for acute conditions, like antibiotics for an infection or pain pills for a broken bone or post-surgery recovery.

Other medications, like treatments for high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol, may need to be taken for the rest of a patient’s life.

Make sure you understand how long each specific medication needs to be taken and when the need should be reevaluated.

3 tips for organizing medications at home

Now that you’ve asked the pharmacist these 9 essential questions, how do you put that information to work?

Whether your older adult lives with you or elsewhere, medication management is a critical part of keeping your older adult safe and as healthy as possible.

Here are three tips for organizing medications:

1. Write it down Take notes on the key facts for each of the medications while speaking with the pharmacist. Or, write it down right after the conversation so the details are fresh in your mind.

Keep a master list of everything your older adult takes, both prescription and over-the-counter medication.

This helps you stay organized, prevent medication errors, and is a historical log that you can look back on if needed.

2. Store safely Each drug has specific storage requirements. It is important that you follow those guidelines as explained by the pharmacist.

In addition, consider the safety of any children who may enter the home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published guidelines for keeping children safe when there are medications in the home.

3. Track prescriptions If you’re managing multiple prescription medications for one or more people, consider taking advantage of an online tool or app to store and track prescription information.

There are free resources available to help reduce the risk of missed doses, medication errors, and missed refills.

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Guest contributor: Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D, is the Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize, an organization that provides a free prescription discount card and mobile Rx app to help people better afford their medications, regardless of insurance coverage. Ken brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital, and home care.

This article wasn’t sponsored and doesn’t contain affiliate links. For more information, see How We Make Money.


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