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Your Guide to Understanding Medication Management

By Homewatch CareGivers

Most of the time, medication can be a considerable benefit to those who have been prescribed a drug by their doctors to help with a specific ailment. Yet medications do have side effects and must be taken properly in order to get the benefits and avoid any downsides.

Once a doctor has written a prescription and called it into the pharmacy and the patient has brought the medicine home, there is the responsibility to follow instructions. Adhering to the directions may require help, though, and this can be another tricky part of taking medications appropriately. An estimated 100,000 Americans ages 65 and older are hospitalized each year for adverse drug reactions, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, but other sources estimate a much higher number.

It's Up to You

Experts recommend scheduling a medication review with your health care provider, and taking along a trusted family member, friend or another caregiver. When asked to list medications, include all supplements, even those not prescribed such vitamins and over-the-counter medicines, as it’s important to know what might be interacting.

Even particular foods—such as citrus juice and leafy greens—can cause medication interactions, so don’t be shy about sharing such details or asking if you should avoid some foods or change when you ingest them. For example, a person who regularly takes a blood thinner and then takes vitamin E or fish oil could end up with abnormal bleeding.

Don’t Go Sideways

Many people do not understand what each pill does for them. A medication review is a good time to teach the purpose of each medicine. If an entire care team, including the patient, knows what each prescription does, then all of those involved in the patient’s care know what side effects to look for and report if necessary.

Certain medications, such as blood thinners, can make people less steady on their feet. The pills might make them dizzy or unbalanced, increasing the risk of a dangerous fall. Many organizations have programs that help with balance, where physical therapists focus on increasing strength and balance to overcome any weakness that may cause unsteadiness. But strengthening doesn’t help if the balance issue is from a problem in the inner ear or a medication. Falls are a leading cause of death in people ages 65 and older, and one fall can lead to a broken bone, a need for surgery, and may hasten death.

Make Your List, Check It Twice

The end result of an effective medication review should be a current list of medications, who prescribes each one, and the contact information for the health care provider and pharmacist. And don’t just file the list away—bring it to all medical appointments so that it can be determined if there is a risk for a detrimental interaction. Adding a medication to your body, herbal, over-the-counter, or doctor-prescribed, is not something that should be taken lightly.

Also, know the limitations of who can help with different medicines. For example, a professional caregiver (who is not a licensed nurse) typically cannot administer medicine but can remind an individual it’s time to take a pill or liquid.

When it comes to medications, the more you know, the better.