Preventing Medication Hazards by Pam Zuber


Preventing Medication Hazards for Elderly Patients


We are fortunate to live in a world with many medications designed to improve health and save lives. But the increased number of prescription medications can also lead to more problems about using them properly. This is particularly true in the elderly population, who may have issues that could lead to medication misuse or dangerous medication interactions.

Medication Management Is Critical to Health Maintenance in the Elderly

Seniors sometimes depend on many medications to keep them healthy and functioning:

  • High blood pressure drugs reduce the likelihood of debilitating strokes and cardiac incidents.

  • Heart medications help elders avoid heart attacks and heart failure.

  • Statins lower cholesterol levels and minimize cardiovascular issues.

  • Blood thinners prevent serious blood clots.

  • Pain medications control pain and discomfort stemming from various conditions.

There are thousands more for specific health conditions. It’s not unusual for older individuals to take four or more medications on a daily basis.

But multiple drugs can lead to confusion, side effects, and deadly interactions. Proper medical management can be a matter of life or death, so finding ways to ensure accurate medication usage is essential.

Factors Affecting Accurate Medication Adherence

Proper medication adherence, the practice of taking medications as directed by physicians, can be a particular problem in the older population. These individuals may have:

  • Doubts about the seriousness of their conditions.

  • Transportation problems traveling to and from pharmacies and health care facilities.

  • Vision problems that make it harder to read labels.

  • Physical impairments that make it difficult to open medication containers.

  • Cognitive impairments that cause them to forget what day or time they last took their medication.

Such issues can lead to failure to follow their doctors’ medication instructions, and elders may develop more severe problems because of this failure.

Medication Interactions Can Be Hazardous for Older Individuals

Physicians as well as pharmacists can often successfully avoid prescribing medications that cause dangerous interactions. But elderly patients may have previous medications from other prescribers, may misunderstand instructions, or may have vision problems. These conditions could prompt them to combine medications and lead to a potentially dangerous interaction.

In addition, taking unprescribed herbal supplements and similar compounds with prescription medications is another way dangerous interactions can occur. To prevent unexpected interactions, elderly individuals should be encouraged to discard or turn in medications they are no longer using.

Abuse of Prescription Medications

Another problem the elderly can experience is becoming dependent on certain types of medications. Physicians may prescribe opioid drugs to manage pain, but an elderly person may use the drugs more frequently than prescribed and may become dependent on them.

There are also risks related to a type of drug known as benzodiazepines. These medications are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorder. But they can be abused, either purposefully or accidentally, and dependence occurs. Substance abuse treatment may be needed to help individuals who have begun misusing benzodiazepines and other drugs.

Ways to Help Seniors Take Medications Accurately

Family members can help elders by:

  • Learning the medications they are currently taking and how they’re using them.

  • Giving elderly individuals medication containers/pill boxes that help them take their drugs on the appropriate schedules.

  • Posting calendars in convenient areas to help them stay on the right schedules.

  • Ensuring that the areas where they take their medications are well lit so they can see their medications and read labels.

  • Placing extra pairs of reading glasses in the medication areas.

  • Changing medication containers to types that are easier to open. 

Loved ones should also look for any changes in behavior or physical condition that might be related to the medications the elderly individuals are taking. In some cases, a caregiver may be needed to ensure the elder takes their medication at the correct times and at the correct dosages.

A Team Approach Can Help Manage Medications More Effectively

Both caregivers and loved ones play a critical role in helping elders take their medications accurately to provide the best benefits. They should bring any adverse reactions to the attention of physicians.

Problems with the misuse of medications should be properly addressed and treated to help elders manage pain and other conditions without developing negative effects such as dependency. When everyone works as a team, elders can receive the best outcomes and achieve better health and lifestyles.


Sources - The 10 Most Prescribed Medications for the Elderly and What they Do - Chapter 18: Medication Management of the Community-Dwelling Older Adult - Polytherapy and Drug Interactions in Elderly - Benzodiazepine Drug Information - Medicines and You: A Guide for Older Adults - Drug Rehab in Austin, Texas