Seniors and Drug Misuse

Seniors and drug misuse

When we hear the term “Drug Misuse”, we typically think of illegal drug use and/or those who take or mix prescription and over-the-counter medications to get high. Surprisingly, drug misuse is actually one of the top problems doctors see in senior adults.

Almost 40 percent of all drug reactions each year involve people over 60 who have either taken the wrong amount of medicine or taken it at the wrong time. Additionally, the Federal Drug Administration estimates that 40 to 75 percent of older adults make mistakes in how they take medicine. Considering the average senior takes two to seven daily medications and sees more than one doctor, it’s easy to lose track of what medications to take and when to take them.

Some other ways these accidents can happen include;

  • Confusing drugs with similar names
  • Not knowing how often the medicine should be taken each day
  • Grabbing the wrong bottle in the medicine cabinet
  • Not being able to remember if the medicine was taken.

One of the best ways to prevent drug misuse is to communicate with your doctors about all your medicine, whether prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins, supplements, cream, salve, holistic preparation or herbal remedies. When it comes to prescriptions, each time you get a new medication ask your doctor or pharmacist the following:

  • Why has this drug been prescribed?
  • What are its possible side effects?
  • If side effects occur, what should I do?
  • Will it react with other drugs that I am taking?
  • How long will I need to take this drug?
  • What time of the day should I schedule my dose?
  • Will this drug increase my sensitivity to sunlight?
  • What is the proper dosage?
  • Should I take it on an empty stomach?
  • Should I avoid alcohol or other foods or drinks?
  • How will I know if the drug is working?
  • Can this drug be substituted with a generic brand?
  • How should this drug be stored?
  • Are refills allowed?

You may even want to consider having these questions on a sheet of paper and having your doctor write down the answers to each of your questions for you. Also, make sure that your all your doctors communicate between one another to share records and your health history. Think about keeping your own folder with all your prescription and medical history that you can refer to at home when needed.

When it comes to taking your prescriptions, keep the following in mind.

  • Make sure all medications are clearly labeled. If you have trouble reading a prescription label, ask for a larger-print type or use a magnifying glass.
  • Never take medication in the dark.
  • Know what your medicine looks like for color, shape, and kind. If it doesn’t look the same, contact your pharmacy.
  • Only take the amount prescribed for you. Doubling up on medication will not make you better twice as fast.
  • Never take someone else’s medication.
  • Never stop taking a medicine because you feel better.
  • Consider using a container system, in which the container is marked with the days of the week or month on individual pill compartments.

In addition to taking multiple medications, seniors tend to be more sensitive to medications. One in five seniors have experienced undesirable reactions to prescription medications. Seniors, caregivers and family members need to pay special attention and watch for adverse responses to medication.

There are a variety of age-related reasons that explain why seniors may have adverse reactions to medications. As we age, changes in the digestive and circulatory systems, kidneys, and body composition affect how the body is able to absorb, use, and eliminate medications.

  • Decreases in the motility and gastric acid secretion in the digestive tract can slow a drug’s passage through the stomach and intestines.
  • The kidneys and liver become less efficient, meaning it takes longer for drugs to be flushed from the body.
  • With age, the body has less protein stores and more fat. Because some drugs are fat-soluble, your body may absorb more of a medication.
  • The amount of water in the body typically declines, as well. Drugs are not diluted as much and effects are stronger.

Through effective communication and following some basic guidelines, seniors can avoid serious complication and reactions to their medications. For more information on drug interaction and issues, talk to your doctor of visit one of the many sites relating to these important issues:


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