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Watch Out for Unsafe Medications Given to the Elderly

on January 17, 2012

Medications produce effects which can be good or bad. They can be a life-saving friend or a life-threatening enemy. They may complement the use of other medications or interact with each other to create adverse reactions.

Don’t Do the Math
We have seen the effects of taking too many medications on a senior. One doctor says  take 20mg of one medication and another doctor says take 40mg of the same medication. She added up the milligrams and took 60mg. This caused a hospital visit for 4 days.

Elderly Face Different Risks
Since medications can be dangerous and may cause more harmful side effects than benefits, communication with doctors and pharmacists is absolutely necessary. highlights a study by Duke University focusing on unsafe drugs for the elderly.

Take Time to Read and Understand the Inserts
How many times have you actually read the information page that comes with your medications? If you have, did you understand it all? The information can be confusing and it seems you have to be a doctor or pharmacist to completely understand what it actually says.

Beware of the Black Box
If you notice a warning on the prescription drug information page that is surrounded by a black border, you are dealing with a Black Box or Black Label Warning. The pharmaceutical company is required to place this particular warning on its labeling by the FDA for the following situations: The medication can cause serious adverse reactions (such as a fatal, life-threatening or permanent disability) compared to its potential benefit. Or the drug can adversely affect certain populations such as the elderly with dementia. Just look at this warning for Haldol, a drug often prescribed for dementia patients. When your doctor prescribes a new medication, it is important to find out if it carries this type of warning. If so, we strongly advise you to have a conversation about the medications risks vs. its benefits. Follow up with a consultation with the pharmacist when you pick up the medication.

How Many Pharmacies and Doctors are Involved?
Medication issues are especially a concern for those who use multiple pharmacies and different doctors. One may be a cardiologist, yet another may specialize in working with diabetes and kidneys. Others may include an internist, a urologist or orthopedic doctor. All of these doctors may prescribe medications for different reasons. Some may have an adverse interaction with another. The doctors may not know what the other has prescribed.

If you use different pharmacies and doctors, make sure you give them a complete list of all your medications. All of your doctors, and dentist for that matter, should know exactly what you are taking including the dose and time of day and the reason you are taking medications. This includes over the counter medications such as aspirin and decongestants, as well as nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and fish oil. Your pharmacist and doctor will be able to review the list and advise you of any potential for adverse reactions.

By paying attention to your medication regimen, and enlisting the support of your doctors and pharmacists, you will stand the best chance of getting the results the drug manufacturer intended and avoid the horror of serious side effects.

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