Check to avoid serious issues when adding new medications for seniors
Most older adults take multiple medications, so it’s important to make sure that adding any new medicine is done carefully to avoid causing serious health problems.
Unfortunately, there are doctors who may not take the time to check that a new medication won’t negatively interact with current meds.
If that happens, don’t be afraid to insist that the doctor checks to make sure there are no conflicts with the prescription medicine, over-the-counter medicine, vitamins, and supplements that your older adult is currently taking.
We highlight the National Institute on Aging’s 14 important questions to ask the doctor when starting new medication.
We also summarize their additional safety tips, how a pharmacist can provide extra help, and how to deal with negative medication side effects.
14 questions to ask when starting new medications for seniors
These 14 questions help make sure that the new medicine is needed and will be taken correctly.
It may seem excessive to ask all these questions, especially if the doctor doesn’t seem concerned, but starting a new medication is a serious matter.
Too often, doctors don’t take into account medication that other doctors have prescribed – until a serious negative side effect causes harm.
These questions also alert you to side effects to watch for and help you plan what to do if side effects do happen.
14 key questions:
- What is the name of the medicine and why should it be taken?
- What medical condition does this medicine treat?
- How many times a day should it be taken? At what time(s)? For example, if the bottle says take “4 times a day,” does that mean 4 times in 24 hours or 4 times during the daytime?
- How much of the medicine should be taken? (dosage)
- Should the medicine be taken with food or not? Is there anything that should not be eaten or drank when taking this medicine?
- How long will it take this medicine to work?
- Will this medicine cause problems with other medicines, vitamins, or supplements that are currently being taken? Should any current medications be stopped or adjusted?
- Is it safe to drive while taking this medication?
- What does “as needed” mean?
- When should this medicine be stopped?
- If a medication dose is missed, what should be done?
- What side effects should we expect? What should we do if there is a problem?
- Will a refill be needed? How do we arrange that? For example, sometimes opioids need a new prescription every time a refill is needed.
- On each doctor visit, ask if all current medications are still needed or if any should be discontinued.
A few more important medication safety tips
Before they prescribe any new medication, the doctor should know about ANY and ALL drugs your older adult is taking.
That includes ALL medication prescribed by other doctors, vitamins, supplements, herbal remedies, and over-the-counter drugs – even if only used once in a while.
Also, go over your older adult’s allergies and any problems they’ve had with other medicines.
Remind the doctor of any negative side effects that have happened, like rashes, trouble breathing, indigestion, dizziness, or mood changes.
Get additional help from pharmacists
Even after asking plenty of questions during the doctor’s visit, more questions could come up later. Another qualified expert you can speak with is a pharmacist.
Important questions for a pharmacist:
- Tell the pharmacist if your older adult has trouble swallowing pills. Liquid medicine or other formulations could be available.
- If you’re thinking of having your older adult chew, break, or crush tablets (for example: to put in applesauce), first ask the pharmacist if the drug will still work that way.
- On the bottle or container, make sure the name of the medicine, the directions, and any warning stickers are clear and easy to read. If anything is difficult to read, ask the pharmacist to use larger type for the labels.
- Make sure you (or your older adult) can open the medication container. If not, ask for easy open containers.
- Ask of there are any special instructions for storing the medicine. For example, should it be kept in the refrigerator or in a dry place (i.e. not in the bathroom)?
- Make sure your older adult isn’t allergic to any of the medication ingredients. It helps if the pharmacist has a current list of their allergies.
- Important: Always make sure the label on the medication has your older adult’s name on it and the medication and directions prescribed by their doctor. If it doesn’t, don’t accept it. Take it back to the pharmacist immediately.
What to do if negative side effects happen
When someone takes medication, it could cause unwanted or unexpected symptoms.
Side effects could be minor, like headache or dry mouth. They could also be life-threatening, like severe bleeding or irreversible damage to the liver or kidneys.
Many medications can also increase fall risk by affecting balance or make driving unsafe.
If your older adult has any side effects, even if they’re minor, write down what they are and when they happen.
Call the doctor immediately and give them an accurate report of the side effects. They might be able to change the medication to another that will work just as well, but have fewer side effects.
Important: It can be dangerous to suddenly stop medication or make dosage changes. Always get specific instructions from the doctor before making changes.
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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Sterling Case Management
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