September is a time of change for just about everyone. It’s Back-to-School for the kids, and easing into Autumn for older New Yorkers, especially elder residents with complex health issues. It’s a great time to review a few simple guidelines for managing medications and maintaining health and wellness as the seasons change.
As we age, our bodies process drugs differently. The average senior takes more than five different pills daily, not including over-the-counter drugs or supplements, which can leave them more vulnerable to adverse reactions. In fact, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that senior citizens are twice more likely to visit the emergency room due to adverse drug reactions than their younger counterparts.
Patients or their family caregivers can do a lot to minimize the risk of a negative reactions related to a medication, says Registered Nurse Constance Washington, a Care Coordinator with VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans from the not-for-profit Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Constance works with older New Yorkers living in Harlem and throughout New York who are challenged by multiple chronic illnesses and are often required to follow complex medication regimens. To help those she cares for live safely and independently in their community as they age, Constance makes sure that she reviews these simple guidelines for medication management with them on a regular basis.
1. Make a List. Keep a personal record of all the meds your loved one is taking, including the name of the medication, the dosage instructions, the reason it was prescribed and the name and number of the doctor who prescribed it. “Don’t forget to include over-the-counter meds and herbal supplements, too,” says Nurse Washington.
2. Take All Medications to the Doctor. An estimated 100,000 older Americans are hospitalized for adverse drug reactions yearly, and three of the most commonly prescribed drugs – insulin, the blood thinner warfarin (aka Coumadin) and the heart drug digoxin – are most often the cause, according to a recent study by researchers at the CDC published in the New England Journal of Medicine. If you’re unsure about your meds, put everything in a bag and bring them to your doctor. Ask for help figuring out what you are taking and why, to avoid taking medications incorrectly. Being knowledgeable about your medication is the first step in preventing medication errors.
3. Ask Questions. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Every time a new med is recommended or prescribed, it’s imperative to ask the physician and pharmacist these key questions: Why has this been prescribed? How does it work? How can I tell if the drug is working? What are the possible side effects? Is this safe to take with other prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs? “Also ask about the risk of taking your medications with different foods and drinks,” Nurse Washington says. “Something innocent may cause an adverse reaction. Grapefruit juice, licorice, chocolate, alcohol and other food and beverages are known to increase side-effect risks with certain medications.”
4. Change Dosage. Open a dialog with the prescribing physicians about possibly lowering the number of different pills taken throughout the day. Studies show that the more pills a person takes, the less likely they are to adhere to the schedule and dosage.
5. Store Smart. “Don’t keep your meds in the bathroom or the kitchen,” cautions Constance. “The moisture and heat can impact potency.” Knowing how to properly take and store your medications not only helps them work more effectively, but may save your life.
6. Box Them. Nurse Washington encourages members to get a pill box that has labeled compartments for each day of the week. “There are even ones labeled ‘take with meals’ or ‘take at bedtime’ and ones that alarm when it’s time for a dose,” she says.
For more information about VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans from the not-for-profit Visiting Nurse Service of New York, please call 1-888-867-6555 or visit www.VNSNYCHOICE.org.