By: Craig Statton, CEO of Atherton

A few months ago, I went to the doctor.   After a routine exam, he suggested I begin taking a baby aspirin every day as a step in minimizing the effects of a heart attack. There were several factors which led to this diagnosis, but this was his recommendation. I followed my doctor’s orders strictly for a few weeks… and then I began to miss a day here and there, then a couple of days, and eventually it became even more sporadic.  I haven’t told my doctor about my pattern, but my guess is he would say that the medicine is only as good as the administration. It cannot help you if it is not in your system.

I am I sure that I am not an exception.  In fact, I may be the rule, because medication management is one of the major problems for senior adults.   According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, nearly three out of four people aged 65 or older have multiple chronic health conditions.  The treatment for many conditions associated with aging (such as high blood pressure, depression, and arthritis) includes medication.  Another study says that 87% of seniors take one prescription drug, and 36% take five or more.  Add to this the issues of declining eyesight, grip strength, mobility, and memory issues which seniors face, and you have a recipe for problems.  The advances in modern medicine, especially drug therapy, have been remarkable in the 20thand 21stcenturies, but these drugs only work well when administered in the right amounts at the right time. In fact, when these factors are not in place, a person can have more problems and complications.  With this in mind, here are a few ideas to make sure your medications (or those of a loved one) accomplish their purpose and don’t cause problems.

  1. Keep all medications, vitamins, OTC meds, and supplements in one location
    If they’re all stored in different locations, it’s easy to lose track of medications, vitamins, over-the-counter medications, or supplements that are being taken. For example, some older adults might keep certain pills in the kitchen, some on their bedside table, and others in the bathroom medicine cabinet. It’s especially important to include over-the-counter medications because they could negatively interact with prescription medications. A good habit is to gather everything into one place. That way, you can see exactly what is being taken, make sure similar prescriptions aren’t being prescribed for the same health condition, and dispose of expired medications.

  2. Make sure medication is stored properly
    In general, medication should be kept in a cool and dry place. This means the bathroom cabinet isn’t a good place to keep meds – moisture and heat can affect drugs. Medications should also be kept safely away from children or pets.To stay organized and increase medication safety, keep all the pill bottles and packages in a clear plastic storage bin.  You’ll be able to store them more securely and make sure everything stays together.

  3. Create and maintain an up-to-date medication list
    To prevent negative drug interactions, it is essential to know exactly what medications are being taken. That’s why it is so important to always have an up-to-date list of medications, vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter medications. You need to be aware of the name of the medication, how often to take it, the proper dosage, who prescribed it, the purpose of the medication, and whether is it for long-term or short-term use.

  4. Pre-sort medications for the week
    Staying organized is essential to good medication management for seniors. Using a pill organizer allows you to pre-sort medications for the week. The best type of pill organizer, especially for older adults, is one with enough compartments for every dose needed throughout the day. If any pills need to be split, it may be best to do this ahead of time and include those halves in the pill organizer compartments.

  5. Double check for negative drug interactions
    Many older adults are taking multiple medications, vitamins, over-the-counter medications, or supplements. That’s why it’s important to double-check to make sure none of them cause serious negative interactions. You can always consult your pharmacist about these issues. Asking questions is a great way to get information and build a relationship for future needs.

  6. Make sure medication instructions are clear
    With medications, it’s important to follow the doctor’s instructions. This minimizes the risk of negative drug interactions, side effects, and the drug losing effectiveness. Make sure you understand which medications are safe to take at the same time and which need to be spaced out to prevent negative side effects. Some medications need to be taken on a full stomach while others need an empty stomach. If there is any uncertainty, don’t be afraid to ask the doctor for explanations and detailed instructions. Their job is to make sure the medications will work effectively, and the only way that can happen is if they’re taken correctly.

  7. Set up a medication reminder and tracking system
    With so many medications, it can be tough to remember when to take each dose. A medication reminder system and tracking log can help you know that the correct meds have been taken at the right times.A simple way of tracking when medications were taken is to take notes with paper and pen. You could create a simple chart with the medication name and dose, day, and time of day. To help remember when it’s time to take medicine, there are a variety of ways to set reminders. Some older adults might like to set a series of alarms on their mobile phone. Tech-savvy seniors might find a medication management app.  If you aren’t tech-savvy and only take a couple of doses per day, a basic alarm clock could work well. For others, a telephone-based reminder might work better and allow for more doses through the day.

  8. Understand the likely side effects of medications
    Knowing about potential side effects and drug interactions helps you watch out for any health changes that could happen after starting a new medication, increasing dosage, or combining medications differently. If you do notice changes, contact the doctor right away. Common side effects could increase fall risk, upset the stomach, cause pain or weakness, and more.

Modern medications can increase the quality and the longevity of one’s life.  But not properly taken, they can create additional problems.  We will probably all take some type of medication in our lifetimes, so proper management is essential to the quality of life.  I guess that means I should revisit my doctor’s orders and get some new habits in place!