Medications provide several benefits — they can cure an infection, help prevent problems from chronic illness, and relieve pain. But, medications can also cause harm. If they’re taken incorrectly or in combination with something they shouldn’t be, these once helpful pills can cause unwanted reactions or side effects.
If you use a medication regularly — be it a prescription, over the counter remedy or herbal supplement — it’s important to know how to properly take it to avoid any unwanted or dangerous side effects. But figuring out how to correctly take a medication can be difficult, especially if you take several or if the medication has specific instructions. This is a fairly common issue for people of all ages, but for older adults it holds more weight. Medication mismanagement — taking a pill at the wrong time, at the wrong dose, in combination with something else or not at all — is one of the leading causes of nursing home admissions.
To help you avoid this common cause for entering a nursing home, here are some easy ways to ensure you’re taking medications and supplements properly.
Get a Pill Minder
These little plastic containers are widely available at most drug and grocery stores and come with lettered compartments for each day of the week. Simply arrange your medications by day and dose and put them into the corresponding container. This can help you remember to take the correct pills and dosages on the correct day. Sorting medication in advance can also help you avoid confusion when selecting your medicines. Some medications have similar sounding names and can easily be confused for one another — Zantac or Zyrtec, for example. If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of organizing everything, ask a family member or friend for help.
Be Aware of Food Interactions
When you’re keeping an eye out for potential adverse side effects caused by medications reacting with one another, it can be easy to overlook the fact that some foods play a role in contributing to adverse reactions when taken with or after a medicine.
For example, grapefruit, a commonly enjoyed breakfast or snack, interacts with more than 85 medications. Alcohol also interacts with a variety of medications like over-the-counter pain relievers, antihistamines, and prescription anti-anxiety medicines or anti-depressants. To avoid possible interactions, be sure to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about your diet and read all information that comes with your medicines. For additional information, take a look at this drug interaction list from the Food and Drug Administration.
Talk to Your Doctor or Pharmacist
When prescribing medications, your doctor should tell you what they are intended to treat, the appropriate dosage, when you should take them, and any side effects you may experience. If your doctor leaves out any of this information, be sure to ask. In addition, you could ask your pharmacist when picking up your prescriptions. It may also be helpful to keep a running list of medications and dosages with you. This can ensure your doctor and pharmacist are aware of any potential interactions or unwanted side effects that may occur.
If you find a medication is giving you unwanted side effects or you’re questioning the need for a medication, talk to your doctor about your concerns or get a second opinion.
Making sure you’re as knowledgeable as possible about the medicines you take, keeping things organized, and talking with your healthcare team are all important steps in maintaining your health and independence.
For even more tips on medication management — plus more ways to avoid the nursing home — download this free guide.