AMARILLO Pharmaceutical companies are researching new medications all the time. But one ingredient should always be included in every bottle of pills: safety.
Unfortunately for older adults, medication errors are a “significant problem,” said Andrew Crocker, Texas Cooperative Extension gerontology health program specialist in Amarillo.
Most of these errors are caused by consumer error, he said. “When it comes to medication, many errors are a result of the individual’s misuse. You should always talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about your medications, why you are taking them and how to take them properly. Patients who are more involved with their care tend to get better results.”
Misuse of medicines can have several causes, Crocker said. Here are a couple:
- Multiple health care providers: Because so many older adults see many different health care providers, they may end up with medications prescribed by each one. These multiple medications may not interact well with each other.
In order to prevent this from happening, Crocker said, “It is important that each one of these health professionals know about all the medications you are taking, both prescription and non-prescription. You should bring all of your medications to your health care provider at least once every year.”
Also bring the list of medications on the first visit to each new doctor. “Often these visits are known as brown bag’ visits because some patients will show up with a brown paper bag full of bottles,” Crocker said. “You may think this is silly, but it helps your health provider get an accurate picture of your medications.”
- Failure to follow instructions: Skipping doses of medications or failing to finish the medication as prescribed or keeping medications past their expiration date are all ways that patients cheat themselves out of the full value of their medical care.
“Medications are dosed so that you can get maximum effectiveness from them,” Crocker said. “Skipping a dose or stopping the medication before being instructed to do so could cause serious problems with your health. Medications that have passed their expiration (dates) should be discarded immediately (because) the pharmaceutical company cannot guarantee the effectiveness and safety of the medication after it has expired.”
Scientists and researchers are beginning to warn against pouring old medicines down the toilet or garbage disposal, because of potential harm to the environment. To learn about safe methods of disposing of old, expired medications, contact a pharmacist or other health care provider.
However, Crocker warned, in order to keep personal information out of the wrong hands, never put old empty prescription medicine bottles in the regular trash. Contact a pharmacist for advice on disposing of them.
Because the human body changes with age, some older adults may have different reactions to drugs than younger people do. “As people age, they lose muscle tissue and gain fat tissue,” Crocker said. “Liver and kidney functions may also slow down. These issues may affect how a drug will be absorbed into the bloodstream, react in the organs and how quickly it will be eliminated.”
That’s why many doctors advise their older patients to “start low and go slow” when they are first taking a new medication. “You should not hesitate to remind your health care provider of this adage,” Crocker advised.
Education can also be a key ingredient in medications, he said. “Before you purchase a prescription or over-the-counter medication, learn and understand as much about it as you can. Drug information for consumers is available from a variety of sources, including your health care provider, pharmacist, library and book store.
“Also, don’t be afraid to ask your health provider or pharmacist to describe your medication and its actions in your body in terms that you can understand. If you are going to be taking this medication, you should be well aware of what it will do for your body as well as any side effects it may cause,” he added.
“If you cannot ask questions comfortably, get someone to do it for you.”
No matter how qualified the doctor or how miraculous the drug, ultimately health care is in the hands of the patient, Crocker said. In order to get as much benefit as possible from every aspect of health care, “you should become actively involved with your health, if you are not already.”
For more information on this and other issues of older adults, visit the Extension Web site at http://fcs.tamu.edu/ and click on the link to family life.