EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 4, 2013

Steps can be taken to avoid adverse reactions to medications

Roseanne DiStefano
Elder Q&A

---- — Q: My elderly mother had been in the best of health until a few months ago when she was in a serious automobile accident and subsequently had a heart attack while hospitalized. She is now supposed to be taking several medications and seems a little overwhelmed by all of this. I have never had to take any pills on a daily basis so I don’t know how to help her and she is embarrassed to keep calling her physician. Do you have any hints to make this easier for her to understand and manage?

A: Studies indicate about 33 percent of people age 65 and older have one or more negative reactions to a prescribed medication. This is rather understandable considering they have more chronic illnesses and take more prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines than any other age group. Your concern is brought to our attention on a regular basis so obviously a lot of people are having the same problem as you stated. The National Council on Aging has a list of suggestions that should be helpful to not only your mother but anyone regardless of age who takes medications on a regular basis.

1. Keep informed about all the medications you are taking-Carefully make a list of all prescribed medications, over-the-counter products, vitamins, herbals and supplements (update this on a regular basis). Provide this list to all medical personnel involved in your care. It will be important to know if a new medicine could negatively interact with a previously prescribed medication or over-the-counter medication. Additionally pay attention to and properly dispose of any pills past the listed expiration date.

2. Use one pharmacy: Whenever possible have prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy or drug mail order supplier. When a prescription is filled closely inspect the contents to verify the pills are the ones prescribed. If the pills look different from ones previously taken do not use them until you have received an acceptable explanation. Your local pharmacist is often a source of useful information, develop a relationship where you feel comfortable discussing any concerns with them on a regular basis.

3. Pay attention to side effects: Ask your physician how you will feel when taking a new medication, in many instances no changes will be detected in others there will be noticeable symptoms. Keep and carefully read all instructions listed on the container and included in the package. If you detect any side effects contact your physician to determine if you should continue taking the medication or immediately discontinue further dosages. Don’t automatically assume you are going to have a reaction but pay attention.

4. Store your medications safely:Most medications should be kept in a cool, dry and dark location. With this in mind the bathroom medicine cabinet is not the ideal environment for prescriptions due to excess humidity. This space is fine for band-aids, toothpaste, shaving cream and other personal items but not for pills. In some instances instructions will specify refrigeration for the medications so pay close attention.

5. Take medications as prescribed: Follow directions as to when and how medications should be consumed (with or without food, morning/noon or night). If you inadvertently miss a dose it will be important to understand whether you should take it as soon as possible or wait until the next dosage is due. Utilize an alarm clock, a posted medication list or an organized daily pill container to keep you on schedule. Make every attempt to establish a routine that will help you to remember to take all medications. If an individual finds swallowing a pill becomes difficult they should consult their physician to find out if it is acceptable to crush or split the pill. Capsules should never be broken or chewed.

6. Get help paying for medications: When a new medication is prescribed determine if it will be covered under your health plan’s formulary and what the co-payment will be. Speak with your physician to find out if a less expensive generic drug is available and would be appropriate for usage. If the cost of medications is becoming prohibitive speak with a SHINE Counselor to see if you would qualify for any assistance through state/federal subsidies or directly through one of the pharmaceutical companies.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct correspondence to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street, B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. By Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley.