How to Avoid Taking the Wrong Medications

Calendar Icon Updated January 15, 2019
Medicare

Very few seniors can avoid taking medications. There are simply too many ways popping a pill can help you, whether it’s lowering high blood pressure, regulating diabetes, lowering cholesterol, or dozens of other possibilities in which medicines can improve your quality of life.

But every time you take a medication, you also assume a degree of risk. In general, medication errors are one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and overdoses are specifically the number one cause of medication fatalities. But with proper care and handling, these errors can be minimized. 

Here are a few things to be mindful of when it comes to taking medicines:

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Ensure that you are taking the right medicine. Seniors who take several medications may confuse similar sounding medicines with each other. Although the FDA reviews names of drugs before the come on the market, looking for similarities, many brand names still sound a lot like each other (i.e. Zyrtec is for allergies while Zantac is for heartburn), and the manufacturers’ clinical names are often times multi-syllabic, tongue-twisting nightmares. Many drugs tend to look the same coming out of a prescription bottle as well (should I take the little white pill, or the other little while pill?). 

For patients with diminished mental capacities such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the challenge to of getting proper prescriptions and dosages right can be daunting at best and downright dangerous at worst. 

Making sure you take the right medicine in the right dosage is best solved by using a pill minder. Sorting daily medications whether you are a patient or a caregiver is the best way to ensure that there are no medication mishaps. If a pill is not in the minder, then it does not need to be taken. Prescription bottles should be kept separate from the pill minder to further safeguard against wrong pill issues.

Bad drug interactions. It’s estimated that 40 percent of seniors take five or more medications daily. Unless doctors and pharmacies are communicating effectively with you and each other, this can be a recipe for disaster.

Whenever you see your doctor and you are prescribed a new medicine, it is imperative that you let your doctor know what medicines you are already taking, right down to your daily multi-vitamin or any over-the-counter supplements. Many medicines, by themselves, will be highly useful to you, but sometimes a drug cocktail can have dire consequences. Only your physician and/or your pharmacist will know for sure. And any time you have questions or doubts, you must be sure to ask. 

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Another way to check your drug’s interactions with each other is to use Medscape’s Drug Interaction Checker. Available in four languages, it allows users to enter their full regimen of drugs and then run a comparison to see if there are any known harmful interactions. It is located at http://reference.medscape.com/drug-interactionchecker

Be careful mixing certain foods with drugs. Just like mixing one drug with another may result in a bad outcome, mixing certain drugs with some kinds of foods can have the same effect as well.

For example, grapefruit juice can cause the body to metabolize drugs in an abnormal way. That can result in higher or lower levels of a drug entering the body. Grapefruit juice is different from most other juices in that it contains compounds call furanocoumarins and it can have a particularly strong impact when taking statins, antihistamines, thyroid drugs, blood pressure drugs and some cough medicines. 

Green leafy vegetables interfere with Coumadin and other blood thinning drugs because the vegetables that are high in vitamin K, nullify the effects of blood thinning medicines to prevent clotting.

Another common food/drug interaction to be wary of is the use of salt substitutes when taking high blood pressure medications. Salt substitutes often replace sodium with potassium, and this in turn, reduces the effectiveness of corresponding medications.

Eligibility Team

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