A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 44 percent of men and 57 percent of women older than 65 years take five or more medications per day.
Further, 12 percent take as many as 10 or more medications a week.
“Frankly, that’s a lot of people taking a lot of medications,” said Erin Yelland, an adult development and aging specialist with K-State Research and Extension.
Yelland said managing medications can be a difficult task, so it’s particularly important that folks know why they’re taking any given medication, and that they take it properly.
“Doctors and pharmacists may not always explain things in depth to you,” she said. “So it’s important that you take the initiative to ask why you are taking a certain medication and ask how you should be taking it each day so you take it appropriately.
“It’s always up to the patient to ask the necessary questions and ensure you’re being proactive in your own health care.”
Health professionals are generally the best resource for decreasing the risk of taking medications that are not safe in conjunction with others. But to help them avoid unsafe combinations, Yelland said it’s important that the patient or a family member be well-versed in what they are currently taking.
“It is often times very helpful if you have someone you trust, such as an adult child, who can have access to your updated medication list,” she said. “If something happens to you, then there is someone else who understands what your medication list looks like and what drugs you’re taking. Your medication list is especially important to keep track of if you have multiple doctors or use multiple pharmacies.”
In addition, doctors and others can be helpful in guiding patients with medications that should be taken with food, or those that should not be taken if you are drinking alcohol.
“Some medications can make adults more sleepy or drowsy,” Yelland said. “That can increase the risk of falls, which is already an issue for older adults.”
She suggests carefully documenting every medication you are currently taking, and keeping a copy in your purse or wallet, and a copy at home. The list should be shared anytime you see a doctor or pharmacist.
Yelland also said it’s a good idea to use the same pharmacy and doctor, rather than shopping around regularly for the best price or service.
“When you keep the same health providers, the chances are they are going to know your complete medical history and the medications you use,” she said. “When you move around to different providers, the risk can start to increase that they might prescribe a medication that you should not be on.”
Pharmacists and doctors can help in providing advice on alternative medications or generic brands to lower the cost of the drugs you need.
Yelland also urged Kansans to consider working with their local K-State Research and Extension agent, many of whom are trained to provide advice through the Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansans (SHICK) program.
Local agents provide help for individuals enrolling in Medicare and in deciding which prescription plan is right for you.
“If you have that updated medication list, you can take that to your extension agent and ask what prescription plan is right for you based on the medications that you’re taking,” Yelland said.
Not every Kansas county offers SHICK counseling, she said, but local staff can guide interested persons to nearby help. Yelland said more information also is available online from K-State Research and Extension’s adult development and aging program.