Senior Health: You and Your Medications

Jun 22, 2021
Senior shaking drugs out of a bottle into her hand.

According to bemedwise.org, U.S. seniors take more medications (including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and supplements) than any other population group. Since seniors’ health depends on them, it’s essential to understand all the types of medications taken and how to make sure they are taken correctly and consistently. Here are some excellent resources about senior health and medications to keep seniors safe and healthy.

What are medications?

Medications include everything from physician-prescribed drugs purchased from a pharmacist, to supplements like vitamins and minerals, herbal and/or “natural” remedies, and over-the-counter medications such as those for colds, the flu and allergies. According to pharmafactz.com, “a medicine is to prevent, alleviate or cure a symptom, ailment or disease state,” which generally precludes some other drugs, like heroin for example, from being considered medications.

Seniors and medications

Aging can affect how well seniors process medications for many possible reasons. Among them are:

  • Digestive system changes can interfere with delivery of a medication to the blood stream.
  • Kidney and/or liver function may be reduced which in turn can impact how a medication is broken down and ultimately removed from the body.
  • Body weight changes can influence how much of a medication is needed.
  • Slowed circulation can also slow delivery of medications to the liver and kidneys.

For these reasons and others, it’s essential that seniors not only live healthy, but share their complete medical history with their physician. In this way, when medications are reviewed or new ones prescribed, the physician can determine the best drug and the best dose to meet the need.

Another aspect of aging is that pills that once when easily may become harder to swallow, to the point that a senior may prefer to skip a dose rather than experience the difficulties of trying to get them down. To better understand how aging affects how medications work, the HealthinAging.org blog, “Medications Work Differently In Older Adults,” offers detailed information.

Drug interactions

Medications may interact not only with other medications, but also with seemingly safe dietary supplements and even with foods and beverages. These interactions can cause the drug to be less effective or too effective, or induce undesirable side-effects like drowsiness. This can be especially problematic when a senior has multiple physicians prescribing different medications for different conditions. For this reason, it is crucial that each physician have a complete and correct list of all medications a senior is taking. In this way, each physician knows the senior’s entire medication history and can prescribe medications that are less likely to conflict with others. To check for drug interactions, try the “Drug Interaction Checker” from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Senior Health: Keeping track

Something that can become a problem for seniors as memory fades, is just keeping track of medications — what to take and when to take it, when to renew a prescription, and where. For seniors with caregivers at home or in a senior living community, this is less of a problem. But for seniors who live alone, missed doses can quickly become a health concern. But even seniors who aren’t experiencing significant memory problems, may forget simply because they are too busy.

For the non-technical seniors, the National Institute on Aging offers a printable medication tracking worksheet that is easy to use, can be given to physicians to keep them up to date, and will be available in a health emergency. Another very popular and simple solution is the weekly pill boxes that help separate daily doses.

For seniors who are more tech savvy, there’s an app for that! In fact, there are several, for free and by subscription, from Google Play and the App Store that let you list medications, get reminders and track doses. For a lengthy list of medication tracking apps, try appgrooves.com’s blog, “Best 10 Medication Tracking Apps.”

A note about online pharmacies for seniors

For seniors with fixed incomes, paying for the medications may tempt them to try online pharmacies, some of which are not safe. Before using an online pharmacy, check out the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s BeSafeRX website’s Resources for Consumers, with information about buying safely online, counterfeit medications, and more.

For a full lineup of information about senior health and medications, the US. FDA publication, “Medicines and You: A Guide for Older Adults,” is an excellent resource. Or, for more about medication safety, the NIA’s blog, “Safe Use of Medicines for Older Adults” provides a wealth of information and tips as well.

Ganton’s Countryside is here to help when a senior needs help with daily life including keeping medications on track safely. For more information about Countryside, please call Margaret Nagel at (517) 206-5000 or download our brochure to learn about our care levels, cost, and amenities.

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