Caring Editorial Board member Jeanne Manzi, PharmD, BCGP, FASCP, discusses the importance of adhering with medication prescriptions.
People older than 65 take an average of five or more different prescription medications. However, a Harvard University study suggests that up to 75% of elders don’t take all of the medications prescribed for them or take them improperly. Elders usually don’t intend to stop taking their medications or take them incorrectly. Reasons may include forgetfulness, financial struggles, or perhaps an adverse reaction to a medication that is causing nausea or dizziness. Elderly people don’t always understand why a medication was prescribed, don’t think they need it, or don’t know how to take it properly.
Even in a post-acute or long-term care facility where medications are administered by a nurse or other practitioner, patients can experience unpleasant side effects or other problems that may cause them to refuse to take medications. Patients may also experience a drug interaction with food or beverages consumed or with over-the-counter products such as vitamins, antacids, or nutritional supplements.
To improve adherence, it is imperative that you or your elderly loved one understands when and how to take all medications. Medication cassettes can be used to organize medications, and pill boxes with alarms can alert someone when it’s time to take a dose. If a dose is missed or pills get mixed up, inform the physician, pharmacist, or other practitioner as soon as possible.
It is important not to crush, cut, or change a medication in any way without first consulting a pharmacist or nurse. Inquire if there are any foods or beverages that affect how a medication works. It is essential to finish every prescription. Although it may be tempting to stop taking a medication due to improvement of symptoms or unpleasant side effects, discontinuing a medication early may do more harm than good.
Keep a comprehensive list of all drugs, their strength, and how often they are taken. This information should be shared whenever necessary, such as upon admission to a hospital, emergency department, nursing home, or at an appointment with any physician or specialist. Include all current prescription medications and over-the-counter products (such as probiotics, painkillers, allergy medicines, and vitamins or herbal supplements).
The physician, pharmacist, and other health care professionals always want to ensure medications have the best possible outcomes for patients. Avoid complications by taking medications exactly as prescribed and asking for clarification if necessary. A health care professional — either a physician, pharmacist, or nurse — is always accessible and if an emergency situation arises where no one can be reached, dial 911.
Questions to Ask Your Practitioner
Why do I need the medications prescribed for me?
What do I need to know about these medications?
What is the difference between a name brand medication and a generic product?
What You Can Do
Take your medications as prescribed and directed.
If you are taking prescription medications, talk to your practitioner before taking over-the-counter products.
Let your practitioner know if you are experiencing side effects such as dizziness, nausea, or vomiting.