How to Avoid Taking the Wrong Medications

Researcher & Writer
December 10, 2019

Nearly nine out of ten people age 65 and older take at least one medication.1 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.

Every time you take a medication, however, you also assume a degree of risk. Butt 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:

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 they come on the market 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-twisters. Many drugs tend to look the same coming out of a prescription bottle as well (should I take this little white pill, or the other little while pill?).

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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 28 percent of older adults take four or more medications.2 Your doctor and pharmacist can prevent harmful drug interactions by carefully monitoring your prescription list and communicating regularly. If several of your doctors prescribe you medications or your fill your drugs at more than one pharmacy, you could be at risk.

Make sure each of your doctors and pharmacists knows what medicines you are already taking, including any vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter medications (like aspirin or allergy medications).

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Although you should always check with your doctor and pharmacist about potential drug interactions, you can also stay informed using 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.

According to the FDA, grapefruit juice can cause problems with several drugs, including some stain drugs, blood pressure medications, anti-anxiety drugs, and more.3

Other common foods that may interact with your prescriptions include:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy products
  • Leafy greens

Sources

  1. Kaiser Family Foundation, “Data Note: Prescription Drugs and Older Adults
  2. Kaiser Family Foundation, “Data Note: Prescription Drugs and Older Adults
  3. Federal Drug Administration, “Grapefruit Juice and Some Drugs Don’t Mix”

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