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Protect Yourself from Adverse Drug Events

Elderly man sitting at home at a table with his head resting on his hand. Looking troubled he holds a packet of pills with other medication around him

 

An adverse drug event is a harmful reaction as the result of taking a drug. This may be from taking drugs that are dangerous when taken in combination, an overdose of a certain drug, or simply a bad reaction to a single drug. As more than a third of Americans over the age of 65 take at least five prescription medications and the typical 75-year-old takes more than 10 prescription drugs, adverse drug events are all too common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adverse drug events cause approximately 1.3 million emergency department visits each year.

Because of the magnitude of the problem, managing your medications is critically important.

Here are some tips to help you make sure you’re getting the medication you need and avoiding taking something you shouldn’t.

Review your medications with your doctor regularly

Before any appointment with a medical professional, make a list of all the medications and dosage directions – including over-the-counter ones – you are taking. Show the list to your doctor and ask specifically about contraindications with other medications. Make sure all the dosages are still appropriate. If you don’t know what a particular medication is for, ask! Whenever your doctor prescribes a new drug, ask what it’s for and if you really need it. Become educated on all the possible side effects of any medication you’re taking. If your doctor gives you a medication for high blood pressure and high blood pressure is a side effect of another medication, point this out and get the right combination of drugs that will best suit your specific situation.

Be an advocate for yourself

If you have questions about something or you’re experiencing an adverse effect from a certain medication, talk to your doctor or pharmacist! Don’t be afraid to speak up and let your health providers know what’s going on. They may offer alternate options if a specific drug isn’t working for you.

Know the side effects of the medications you take

As mentioned above, if you’re aware of what the potential side effects of a drug are, you can be better prepared and more alert to what’s a side effect as opposed to could be mistaken for a new symptom.

Get a “days of the week” pillbox

These simple and inexpensive devices make it easier to remember exactly what to take and when. They make it easy to track your medications and to tell if you’ve accidently skipped a dose.

Set reminders

While a pillbox can help you stay organized, a reminder is an added step that can really ensure you stay on track. There are a variety of ways to set reminders: smartphones, personal voice devices – like Amazon’s Echo (Alexa) or Google’s Assistant – or even an alarm clock. These devices are particularly useful for those living with memory loss. Some reminder devices, such as Reminder Rosie, are marketed specifically to older adults, allowing you to program reminders for any time, multiple times a day.

If possible, use a single pharmacy

Using a single pharmacy for all of your medication needs allows your pharmacist to track your medication and raise a red flag if a new prescription doesn’t interact well with a current prescription. Using a single pharmacy is an added layer of protection to help you avoid an adverse medical reaction.

Take medications as recommended

Your doctor and pharmacist can go over medication instructions with you. Take the right amount at the recommended time. Know whether to take your medication with or without food or water. If you drink alcohol, find out if it’s safe to do so while taking your medicines. Ask what you should do if you accidentally skip a dose—take it when you remember, or skip the dose if it’s too close to the next one? Never discontinue a prescription medication or change the amount you take without first discussing it with your healthcare provider.

Store your medications properly

Many medications have storage instructions. While most simply want to sit at a dry, cool temperature, some should be refrigerated. Your bathroom, which heats up and becomes humid when you shower or bathe, isn’t the best place to store your medicine. The bedroom or kitchen cupboard may be a better option.

Categories: Senior Safety