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February 09, 2017

Over-the-Counter Medication Safety Tips for Older Adults

In 2013, older adults made up 13 percent of the United States population, yet they consumed 30 percent of all over-the-counter (OTC) medications, according to the Gerontological Society of America. Their report, Over-the-Counter Medication Behaviors of Older Adults, also states that older adults are:

  • significantly more likely to have an adverse drug reaction than younger adults
  • involved in 61.5 percent of ER visits caused by these adverse reactions
  • at high risk for adverse reactions from common medications used for cough and cold, allergies, pain, sleep problems and gastrointestinal disorders

The reality is that almost everyone sometimes takes more than the recommended dosage of an OTC product or inadvertently mixes two OTC medications that shouldn’t be taken together. So, how can you avoid these situations?

Common OTC Challenges and Precautions

NextAvenue.org shares that more than 30,000 people are hospitalized every year because of acetaminophen overdoses, with 150 of them dying. These overdoses are almost always unintentional, happening in large part because acetaminophen “lurks” in so many OTC and prescription medicines. So people may not always be aware of how much they’re taking.

KnowYourDose.org states that acetaminophen is in fact the most common ingredient in medicines in our country—in more than 600 of them. You can find a partial list of the most common ones here.

More than 15 million people in the United States take proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for heartburn, but these should not be taken more than 14 days every four months, according to Next Avenue. Too much of this medication can lead to confusion, blurred vision and vomiting—and, eventually to stomach lining inflammation and perhaps even kidney disease or dementia.

Aspirin? Don’t combine it with ibuprofen or naproxen. This could lead to stomach bleeding and kidney problems. Using nighttime cough and cold medicine to go to sleep? Don’t! They contain multiple drugs with attending side effects.

Before taking an OTC medication, read both the front and back labels. How much of a particular ingredient is in there? What are potential side effects and interactions? Use a magnifying glass, if needed—and don’t hesitate to ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions.

Expired Medicine Challenges and Solutions

Over-the-counter medications expire just like prescription meds, and Grandparents.com shares important information about them. Medicines have an expiration date stamped on their containers, usually one to five years after their manufacture date. This date indicates when the medicine is likely to have lost 10 percent or more of its effectiveness. If you’re finishing the last of a bottle of pills the month after that date, the article says, you’re likely to be fine. But some drugs can become toxic after their expiration dates. Better safe than sorry when it comes to medication safety.

Examples are all prescription drugs, but pharmacists typically tell everyone to throw out all expired medications. Putting them away in case you need them later may sound like a good idea, but what if you forget about them and your grandchild takes too many?

And if a medication starts to deteriorate before the expiration date, meaning it is “crusting, molding, or giving off a foul odor, for example,” consider it expired. You can also read the article for preferred and alternate ways to dispose of prescription medicines.

Better Medication Management

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