Did you know that individuals 65 years and older account for 1/3 of all prescribed medications in The United States? On any given day, the average older adult is taking upwards of 12 doses of medication and has 6 or more active chronic medical conditions that have been diagnosed.
With that many prescriptions to keep straight and additional over-the-counter medications in the home, it’s easy to see how medications could be misused. Medication misuse may be willful or accidental. Many times, an older person will be taking multiple prescriptions for different conditions. If an older adult is going to several specialists in addition to a primary care physician, it’s possible that one or more of those physicians don’t know what the other physicians have prescribed. At least one doctor should know every medication you take (including over-the-counter medications) and be able to review the drugs for duplications and interactions. You should do a “Brown Bag Check-Up” at least once a year or more often if your medications change. This means putting all of your medications in a bag and taking them with you to your appointment with your primary care physician. You might want to contact your physician sooner if you start to experience the symptoms of misuse. These symptoms can range from memory loss and disorientation to balance and gait changes or even mood swings and depression.
Another factor that contributes to medication misuse is access to medications. Many insurance companies are requiring people to use mail order pharmacies that deliver 90 day supplies of medications which can be overwhelming compared to the 30 day supply that they are used to receiving. Additionally, unregulated pharmacies market to older adults with messages that they can buy medications there instead of at a retail pharmacy and save 50%. Commercials for over-the-counter medications can be found on any television channel during every commercial break, leading older adults to believe that they need these medications and resulting in misuse. Older adults can also access medications by sharing with their friends and neighbors. You may be complaining of a cold and have a friend tell you “I had a cold and the doctor gave me this cough syrup. I didn’t finish it so I’ll bring it over for you.” You could also run into a situation where you run out of your medicine before you can get to the doctor and you approach a friend that is taking the same thing and ask “Do you have any water pills? I’m out and I can’t get to the doctor until tomorrow.“ Medication sharing is dangerous. What works for one person is not guaranteed to work for another and could interact with another medication you are taking.
Medications are meant to keep you healthy and feeling well, but they could become dangerous if misused. Remember to take your medications to your doctor for yearly checks, keep medications labeled and take them as directed and never share medications with friends. Please share any questions or comments in the comments section below and check back here the first Wednesday of each month for more nursing tips!
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